Tom Crean's First Season Ends in First Round of SEC Tournament

March 13, 2019
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NASHVILLE — The Georgia men’s basketball team fell to Missouri, 71-61, in the SEC Tournament on Wednesday night in Nashville, Tenn., at the Bridgestone Arena.

Junior guard Jordan Harris led the Bulldogs, scoring a career-high 26 points to squash his previous scoring record of 18. Harris knocked down 8-of-11 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line while also finishing with a perfect 3-for-3 performance behind the arc.

Senior Derek Ogbeide and sophomore Nicolas Claxton finished with double-digit performances, as well, adding 12 and 11 points, respectively. Claxton matched his career-best in blocks for the third time with six. 

“Our team played with tremendous fight tonight, [and with] spirit and tenacity, especially playing this team a week ago and knowing that we didn't leave it all out there on the floor against them,” Georgia head coach Tom Crean said. “At the end of the day, the free-throw shooting was the biggest difference. We wanted to get to the free-throw line and to attack the rim, and we did. I'm proud of the way these guys have continued to come back. It hasn't always been pretty, and it certainly hasn't been easy, but they've continued to improve. Every time that we had to answer in a practice, or come back and know that our pride had been challenged, or we didn't do everything we needed to do to give ourselves the best chance, they responded. Unfortunately, we just didn't have enough good results, but we did have the effort.”

Georgia scored the first basket of the game, but Missouri went on a 6-0 run to take the 6-2 advantage. While the Tigers managed to extend their lead to seven points midway through the first half, the Bulldogs scored six points at the free-throw line to trail by only one point (19-18). Georgia then went on a 7-0 run, sparked by Ogbeide and Claxton, to take the 27-24 lead and the Bulldogs’ first lead in nearly 10 minutes. Georgia maintained the lead for the remainder of the half, though neither team led by more than seven points during the first 20 minutes. A Claxton free throw sent the Bulldogs into the locker room with a 34-32 lead over the Tigers. 

Coming out after the half, Missouri knocked down three-straight baskets for the 43-39 advantage. Though an Ogbeide free throw tied it at 43-all, the Bulldogs were unable to regain the lead. The Tigers proceeded to go on a 6-0 run, causing Georgia to trail, 49-43. With less than four minutes remaining, Missouri extended its lead to 10 (60-50), making it the first double-digit deficit of the entire game. Harris and Ogbeide got the Bulldogs within eight points of the Tigers three times in the last few minutes. However, Missouri fought back to take a double-digit lead and the 71-61 victory. 

 

Q & A with UGA coach Tom Crean and UGA players Nic Claxton and Jordan Harris

 

TOM CREAN: Our team played with tremendous fight tonight, without question. Tremendous fight and spirit, tenacity, especially playing this team a week ago and knowing that we did not leave it all out there on the floor against them. I am firmly convinced they did tonight.

At the end of the day, the statistical differences, we missed some shots, we missed some dunks and layups that would have separated us or helped us a little bit. At the end of the day the free-throw shooting was the biggest difference. We wanted to get to the free-throw line, we wanted to attack the rim. We did. We weren't close to attacking the rim when we played them a week ago. I think we had overcome the amount of rim attempts we had had by the 10-minute mark of this game. We were definitely following the game plan, the way we wanted to play.

When you get rewarded with the free-throw line, you have to be able to knock them down. We just didn't do that enough. But I'm very proud of their effort. I'm proud of their spirit and tenacity. I'm proud of the way these guys have continued to come back. It hasn't always been pretty. It certainly hasn't been easy. But they've continued to improve. Every time that we had to answer in a practice or come back and know that our pride had been challenged or we didn't do everything we needed to do to give ourselves the best chance, they responded.

Unfortunately we just didn't have enough good results, but we did have the effort. I'm proud of these two right here, the way they played, their teammates, the way they continued to battle. It is not easy to go at it every day and get ready for every game when you're not getting the results. Not easy at the age of 52. It is certainly not easy when you're college aged. I'm proud of the way they continue to do that.

THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Nicolas or Jordan.

Q. Nic, you had six rebounds and six blocks. How do you feel you were in the paint tonight?

NICOLAS CLAXTON: My efforts in the paint, they're usually pretty solid. We didn't do enough to get the job done, to get the win. That's what we wanted at the end of the day. Free throws, like Coach Crean just said, they were huge. That's something I really need to work on in the off-season.

Q. Nick, early in the game they were being really physical with you. At some point it seemed like something clicked for you. What happened in the first half when you got going?

NICOLAS CLAXTON: Just staying aggressive. Coach dialed my number. I was ready to play in the first half. Second half was a different story. First half, staying aggressive, not letting any of that get to my head.

Q. Nick, you mentioned free throws as one thing you want to work on. Any other parts of your game you want to see improvement with?

NICOLAS CLAXTON: Definitely making sure I'm getting stronger. That's something that's going to come with time. Just making sure that I'm focusing on shooting, a lot of catch-and-shoot, finishing around the rim.

Q. Jordan, your general thoughts on the game.

JORDAN HARRIS: I feel like we competed hard. Like coach said, it came down to free throws, opportunities we didn't execute on. I think that really kind of bit us towards the end of the game.

I feel like everybody gave it they all. We played hard. None of us wanted to stop playing basketball today. Coach definitely didn't want to stop coaching us today. At this point, man, we got to move on and just look forward to the future.

THE MODERATOR: We'll dismiss the student-athletes and continue with questions for Coach Crean.
 
Q. How difficult was Jordan Geist to guard tonight?

TOM CREAN: He's a tremendous player. We made the adjustment at halftime to try to get on his right hand on the side pick-'n-roll. That's what he does, he drives right. You have to be very conscious of his shot fakes before he starts, you have to be conscious of his shot fakes after he picks the dribble up. You have to be on the right hand.

Guarding the dribble has been a challenge for us all year. He was tough to deal with. They have so many shooters, so it's not like you're coming off and putting yourself in an over-help situation because he can pass the ball well. We didn't make him uncomfortable enough. He made some tough shots.

Q. How important has Claxton been to you all season? How do you think he did tonight?

TOM CREAN: I think Nick has been tremendous. Everybody has gotten better. We're out there playing a walk-on in Christian Harrison that's improved tremendously throughout the season.

Nick has improved by leaps and bounds. There's a lot more improvement in him. He's a very young guy. We've asked him to do a lot. We've really tried to change or bring out his natural skill level on both offense and defense. He got fouled, right? He was hard for them to deal with down there.

He makes a couple more free throws, a couple shots go, it's different. But he's just continued to improve all year long. Tonight he was a big factor for us.

Q. As you go into the off-season, you haven't turned your thoughts there yet, you do have some help coming in this next season. How much are you looking forward to what's coming next?

TOM CREAN: You said it right. It's hard. When the season ends, I'm not very reflective and I'm not very futuristic. I'll get there, right?

I've enjoyed working with these guys at a high level. We haven't known each other a year yet. It will be a year this weekend. I've enjoyed working with them immensely. I did not want the season to end. I did not want it to end. I've loved working with them.

Unfortunately I'm not really mentally prepared to talk about the future. I know we have one. I know there is one. I know I'll be smack dab in the middle of it by sometime tomorrow. Right now it's hitting me that I'm going to miss those guys.

 
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