Coming off suspension, Georgia's senior guard missed every 3-pointer he attempted, and the Bulldogs saw their opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament vanish with a loss to Tennessee.
Thanks to the NIT, Stukes received another chance to leave his home court on a high note.
This time, he didn't waste it.
Stukes' outside shooting made up for Georgia's lackluster perimeter defense and the Bulldogs outlasted Fresno State 88-78 on Wednesday in the first round.
In front of one of the smallest crowds of the season, Georgia (19-13) won its first postseason game since the 2002 NCAA Tournament. The fourth-seeded Bulldogs play the Air Force/Austin Peay winner Monday. The higher seed will play host.
"That (Tennessee) game was in the back of my mind, so I wanted come out and give the crowd something being that it might be my last game here," Stukes said. "It just felt (good) from the outside, and my teammates kept looking for me and they kept falling."
Stukes was frigid from the field in Georgia's loss to Florida in the second round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament. Against Fresno State, he tied a career-high with eight 3-pointers and finished with a season-high 30 points.
Georgia needed every one of them.
Fresno State shredded Georgia's futile attempt at zone defense, making a school-record 18 3-pointers on 40 attempts. Of Fresno State's 10 first-half field goals, nine were long 3-pointers. Fresno State's only two-point field goal before half was Dominic McGuire's alley-oop dunk with 7:59 left.
"We just pretty much battled it out with the 3's," Stukes said. "They were a team that shot 25 3's coming into the game, so we knew they were going to try to put it up."
Georgia made a season-high 13 3-pointers, but the Bulldogs overmatched Fresno State inside. Takais Brown (21 points) and Dave Bliss (10) frazzled Fresno State's undersized post players and kept Georgia's scoring balanced.
Fresno State (22-10) didn't have that offensive luxury. Take away its 3-pointers and Fresno State finished 9-for-20 from the field. At least four of those field goals were dunks. Three came off alley-oops.
Georgia coach Dennis Felton said he started the game in zone to entice Fresno State's long-range shooters. They made seven 3's to start the game, but the law of averages eventually caught up to them.
"I knew (the zone) could tempt them to shoot more than 28 3's," Felton said.
Georgia started strong, vaulting to a 10-3 lead. Fresno State quickly regrouped and took a five-point lead on McGuire's long 3 from the right wing.
But Fresno State couldn't maintain its proficiency from the perimeter, as Georgia limited the Bulldogs to just one 3 during the final 10 minutes of the first half and eventually took over in the second when Stukes connected for a 3 with 7:44 left.