ATLANTA - The day was unfolding according to form for Georgia's Ezra Williams, the hometown boy playing for the home-state team.
"When we were warming up I was feeling pretty good," said Williams, a junior guard from nearby Marietta. "I'm at home, and I'm in front of my home crowd. It just felt great."
Williams was applying a triumphant end to a miserable five-game shooting slump that began after the Feb. 9 shooting death of his brother, Antwonne.
Williams had already scored a season-high 27 points Friday against Louisiana State in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, when he came up with a steal of an inbounds pass with the fourth-seeded Tigers leading 78-76.
He was fouled with six seconds left and went to the free-throw line with a chance to knot the score. That's when his day quickly went south. He missed both free throws, and the No. 1-seeded Bulldogs lost 78-76 to miss out on their first postseason win since 1998.
"A lot of adrenaline was rushing through me," said Williams, who made 81 percent of his free throws during SEC games this season. "I was sure we were going to overtime. I don't miss many free throws. I guess I just shot it too hard. I was too pumped up about it."
This was the second straight year the No. 17 Bulldogs (21-9) have been ousted by LSU (18-13) and the fourth consecutive season that Georgia's first game in the SEC Tournament was also its last.
"Out again, to LSU again," said sophomore swingman Jarvis Hayes, who never found his stroke and finished with 11 points on 5-of-13 shooting. "It's kind of hard."
Williams intentionally missed the second free throw, but LSU forward Ronald Dupree snared the rebound and was fouled.
Dupree missed the front end of the one-and-one attempt, and a desperate scramble for the ball ensued. LSU point guard Torris Bright came up with it ending Georgia's short stay in Atlanta.
Williams missed a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left that would have cut the Tigers' lead to 78-77, but Georgia center Steven Thomas came down with the ball.
Thomas then became entangled with Dupree and fell to the floor, losing the ball. Bright came up with it and passed to forward Jermaine Williams at halfcourt. Jermaine Williams found forward Brad Bridgewater streaking all alone for a two-handed dunk that made it 78-74 with 13 seconds remaining.
"It was just a loose-ball scramble, man," said Thomas, who had four points and nine rebounds in 34 minutes. "He just came up with it."
Bulldogs guard Rashad Wright, who scored a career-high 17 points, scored with eight seconds left to cut the deficit to two. Then Ezra Williams came up with the steal and was fouled.
"I'm kind of glad he didn't make them," said Dupree, who had 18 points on 7-of-14 shooting. "If it would have been overtime, I don't think it would have been good for us."
The Tigers, who got 23 points from freshman guard Antonio Hudson, were 19-of-24 from the three-throw line. The Bulldogs were 6-of-12.
Those numbers rankled Georgia coach Jim Harrick, whose team was outscored 8-2 in the final 5:43 and missed 10 shots on three possessions.
"They shot all kinds of foul shots," he said. "They shot 65 percent in the second half, and that's not counting the foul shots ... They played out of their head today. They haven't had an offensive day like that all year. Where did that come from?"
Said Hayes: "They played better down at the end. They hit their free throws and we didn't. They got the rebounds and we didn't. That's the tale of the game."
Now Georgia awaits Selection Sunday. The Bulldogs could have been a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a good showing, but the loss could be costly.
"I thought if we would have won this game we probably would have gotten No. 4 or better," said Harrick, whose team squandered a 12-point first-half lead . "But I don't know now."
Reach Larry Williams at (706) 823-3645.
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