ATHENS -- Realizing their season is still salvageable, the Georgia Bulldogs began their postseason run with a badly needed 59-57 victory over Louisiana State at Stegeman Coliseum on Saturday.
The Tigers (11-13, 3-10 SEC) nearly stole the game but Maurice Carter's 3-pointer at the end of regulation clanged off the back iron. Bulldogs coach Ron Jirsa shuffled his lineup, starting Ray Harrison instead of G.G. Smith at guard to play the 6-foot-4 Carter.
LSU's size advantage in the post was neutralized because of its reliance on perimeter shooting. The Tigers made 20-of-62 shots for a paltry 32.3 shooting percentage. As a team, LSU tossed up 26 3-point attempts, connecting on seven.
Carter led the Tigers with 18 points but his backcourt mate, Omar-Seli Mance, was held scoreless.
"We felt like we needed a taller defender on (Carter) and we didn't want to take D.A. (Layne) out of the lineup because he's been scoring at a great clip," explained Jirsa on the decision not to start the 5-foot-10 Smith.
The Tigers' struggles from the perimeter allowed Georgia to stay in a 2-3 zone defense the majority of the game. The Bulldogs held Jabari Smith (6-foot-11), Stromile Swift (6-9) and Brad Bridgewater (6-8) to a combined 12 points by collapsing on them in the paint.
Georgia (15-11, 6-8) locked down the No. 4 seed in the Southeastern Conference Tournament with the win. Tennessee comes to Stegeman on Tuesday and then the Bulldogs close out the regular season at South Carolina.
With two wins Georgia may be able to sneak into the NCAA tournament if it is coupled with one or two victories at the SEC tournament. Tennessee pounded the Bulldogs 85-69 on Jan. 20 in Knoxville while the 'Dogs had their way with the Gamecocks, 80-56 on Feb. 6. Barring a complete collapse, Georgia should have at least a slot in the National Invitational Tournament.
Playing with a tender hip, sophomore forward Jumaine Jones scored 12 of his game-high 19 points in the second half. Jones went over the 1,000 career-point barrier on a 3-pointer from the left wing at the 18:57 mark of the second half. The win ended a two-game losing skid for the Bulldogs who are 3-7 in their last 10 games.
"Anytime you get a win it gives you momentum," said Jones who grabbed 11 rebounds. "Coming off the loss to Kentucky, it's good to get a win."
The Bulldogs went on an 11-0 run to take a 50-37 lead with 8:39 remaining in the game. Layne, a freshman, scored seven of his 13 points in the second half to help Georgia bolster its 29-26 halftime advantage.
LSU turned 19 offensive rebounds into 16 second-chance points. The Tigers' persistence on the glass helped them make a late-run as did their 20-7 edge on points off turnovers. Georgia had just one second-chance point.
The first half consisted of alternating runs. Georgia scored the game's first five points then the Tigers built a 16-12 lead with a 9-2 run. Sophomore forward Brian Beshara nailed a trio of 3-pointers to give LSU a brief lead. He finished with 18 points.
Tigers coach John Brady was delighted his team was still fighting for the game despite such miserable shooting.
"To shoot 32 percent on the road in this league and have a chance to win, other parts of your game has to be good," Brady said. "We just missed a lot of shots we normally make. We weren't able to get them to go down. We had a shot in the air to win the game and that's what you want."
Following Beshara's second consecutive trey from the top of the key, UGA went on a 12-0 run culminating in 6-foot-8 forward Jon Nordin's 10th 3-pointer of the season. The Bulldogs held a 24-16 advantage but let it slip away as the Tigers answered with an 8-0 run to knot the game 24-24 with 2:00 remaining in the first half.
Layne made a 3-pointer 17 seconds later and Jones made 2-of-3 free throws to increase the Bulldog lead to 29-24. Carter slipped inside for a layup just before the first-half buzzer to cut UGA's advantage to 29-26.