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If you were looking for entertaining basketball games to start your Saturday, the South Carolina vs. Tennessee matchup delivered in the first half, while Auburn vs. Georgia stole the show in the second half. A wild way to start the day in SEC basketball, with the bottom-ranked Bulldogs giving Auburn all they wanted, and but the Tigers winning their 19th straight game. Over in Columbia, Tennessee picked up its 5th straight SEC win, in dominating fashion.
Auburn (22-1, 10-0) wins 74-72 over Georgia (6-17, 1-9)
I think just about everyone in the country thought Auburn would roll into Athens and take care of Georgia with ease. It looked that way for the first 20 minutes of the game, with the Tigers leading 42-30 at halftime. But the way Georgia came out in the second half set the tone for the final 17 minutes of action. The Bulldogs went on an 11-0 run to cut the Auburn lead down to one point, thanks to the play of Kario Oquendo, who finished the game with 25 points. This was the type of fight from Georgia that we saw against Alabama, just two weeks ago. The crowd roaring at a fever pitch, not including the huge amount of Auburn fans in the building, brought life to the Dawgs, who had a chance to win it at the end of regulation.
Wendell Green Jr. summed up his feelings about this basketball team, especially with a few players having off nights.
“We’ve just got winners, no matter the circumstances. We believe in each other. We’re 22-1 for a reason. … We believe we could win against any team in the country.”
Bruce Pearl put a lot of blame on the Tigers starting slow in the second half, mentioning that he could’ve cost his team the game.
“I don’t know, because it’s been a consistent problem for us this year… I’ve failed in that area. I should’ve called timeout sooner with a short bench. Without Zep (Jasper), being short in the backcourt, I could’ve cost us the game.”
On a day where Jabari Smith only shot the ball twice in the second half, the Tigers were able to rely on K.D. Johnson and Wendell Green Jr. to lead them to victory. Back-and-forth the game went over the final five minutes, with Georgia not able to extend its lead to more than two points, giving the Tigers every opportunity to get out of Athens with the win. It was the final sequence of the game that sealed it for the Bruce Pearl’s group. It was Wendell Green Jr. scoring the final basket of the game with 3.2 seconds remaining, while Georgia missed a half-court shot at the buzzer.
“I’ll take him with the ball in a last-chance situation any day,” Pearl said postgame.
It’s almost amazing that the Tigers pulled it out with Jabari Smith not shooting much and Walker Kessler getting into foul trouble towards the end, but the guards brought life to the Tigers all game. The Bulldogs came close, but it wasn’t enough to knock-off the No.1 team in the country.
Auburn just continues to find ways to win games.
Tennessee (16-6, 7-3) wins 81-57 over South Carolina (13-9, 4-6)
It was another bruiser of a game for the Vols and Gamecocks on Saturday afternoon. After their first meeting, where it was physical from the jump, we witnessed the same type of performance from both teams today. An intense battle in the paint gave the Gamecocks a 14-4 advantage at halftime, but it wasn’t enough for the halftime lead, with Tennessee leading 33-29. Thanks to an aggressive first half, Josiah-Jordan James scored 15 points, getting the Vols off to a fast start. Ever since that shot didn’t fall at Texas, a spark has been lit inside of James, especially with how he’s attacking the basket. The fact that Rick Barnes can rely on Josiah to get to the basket, opens up more opportunities for teammates, especially Zakai Zeigler, who scored 18 points.
Josiah-Jordan James was asked to describe Zeigler and what he brings to floor every night.
“Everything he does is rare. When you look at him he’s just a middle school kid. On the court he’s reliable night in and night out on both ends of the court. You can’t outwork him.”
Rick Barnes has to be thankful that Josiah-Jordan is starting to play the game that Barnes knows he’s capable of, especially being able to get after the basket from multiple positions.
“He’s a basketball player. He really is. He can be unselfish to a fault.
“In today’s college basketball you have to have a guy like him (JJJ) who can play inside or outside,” Barnes added.
There was a bit of a scare for Tennessee in the second half, as Olivier Nkamhoua went down with an ankle injury and didn’t return. During his postgame presser, Barnes said he doesn’t know how serious it is, but is hopeful for a speedy return. The Vols certainly can’t afford to lose someone like Nkamhoua, but we did see Fulkerson and James step-up today when the Vols went to a three-guard lineup.
This game went exactly like the previous outing. The Gamecocks held things close for about 25 minutes, then the Vols separated themselves, thanks to outside shooting and getting to the rim. What we saw out of Kennedy Chandler, Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler should bring hope to the Vols, as all three had double-digit scoring.
Tennessee has now won 5 straight SEC games, and will look for its 6th against Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
The Tigers and Vols both found ways to win today, in total opposite ways.