ATHENS, Ga. — On a day when the leading scorer in the Southeastern Conference was a little off his game, Georgia’s basketball team needed a boost and got it in the form of Nemanja Djurisic’s career-high 21 points.
“We need people to step up and score if I am not making baskets,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said after scoring a season-low 11 points Saturday in Georgia’s 82-73 win over Florida A&M.
Djurisic grinned sheepishly nearby as Caldwell-Pope bragged on him, but said he could have played a lot better.
“The truth is I have not been playing as well as I can,” he said. After starting eight of Georgia’s first nine games, he has come off the bench during a current three-game winning streak.
“I was struggling,” he said. “My shooting was not as good, and I lost my confidence. It was frustrating, but the coaches and the players were all patient with me.”
Djurisic doesn’t consider himself back at full production yet.
“I just had a lot of opportunities,” he said. “They passed the ball to me, and I was running the floor well. I missed so many easy layups.”
Brandon Morris added 10 points for Georgia (5-7).
Florida A&M (4-8) was led by Muhammad Abdul-Aleem, who came off the bench to score 16 points and grab a game-high 11 rebounds. James Adams added 12 and Markee Teal 10.
Georgia led the entire game, mostly by double figures, but the Rattlers took advantage of a 7-minute cold spell by the Bulldogs in the second half to cut the deficit to six, 53-47, with 12:53 to play.
But Donte’ Williams and Caldwell-Pope combined for three baskets in the paint to push the lead back to 59-47.
Florida A&M made one last surge, cutting into the lead, 78-71, with 42 seconds to go after a basket by Adams. The Rattlers forced a turnover on the inbounds play, but another missed 3 ended the comeback attempt.
Georgia coach Mark Fox was concerned with his team’s lack of maturity.
“We played pretty well offensively in the first half, but we are so immature,” he said. “We obviously did not play well with the lead.
“We are immature in so many ways. As competitors and as people,” Fox continued. “That has to change for us to become a good basketball team.”
The Rattlers hit 7 of 15 3-point shots in the first half, but missed all 11 long-range shots in the second half. Florida A&M also struggled from the line, hitting 12 of 25 attempts.
“Our team shot poorly from the line, and we gave up a lot of 3s,” Rattler scoach Clemon Johnson said. “A major takeaway from this game is that we know that we have the effort and the knowledge that is required to play at a high level. I told my players that if we continue to play like this that the MEAC championship will have to come through Florida A&M this year.”
The first half was a shooting clinic as both teams hit well from beyond the 3-point line. The Bulldogs made 7 of 11 from long range.
Florida A&M’s problem, however, was that it had trouble shooting inside the arc. The Rattlers made 7 of 19 from inside the line, and five of those 2-pointers came in the last 4 minutes of the half.
Georgia’s Caldwell-Pope entered the game as the leading scorer in the Southeastern Conference, averaging 18.1 points per game, but he was scoreless until he converted a breakaway opportunity with a slam dunk with 5:25 to go in the half.
Georgia scored the first eight points of the game. Back-to-back 3s by Florida A&M’s Jamari Bradshaw closed the deficit to 17-15 with 11:27 to go in the half. But a 15-0 run by the Bulldogs pushed Georgia to a 42-24 lead, capped by Djurisic’s 3-pointer with 4:06 to go before halftime.
Georgia led 49-36 at intermission.
The Bulldogs started slowly in the second half, scoring just one field goal in the first 7 minutes.
“In the first half we had a lot of intensity,” Caldwell-Pope said. “In the second half we gave up a lot of easy baskets.”
The Rattlers got within six at 53-47 when Onyekachukwu Odi hit a pair of free throws with 12:53 to play.
Georgia responded with three baskets in the paint, a dunk by Williams, a follow by Caldwell-Pope and a layup by Williams to stretch the lead to 59-47.
“We are getting better as a team,” said Fox. “You didn’t see it in the second half. But we are getting better in spite of ourselves. We have made some progress.”