NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Rayshaun Hammonds knocked down his first of couple shots and kept firing to jump-start Georgia’s impressive beginning to the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Hammonds had 22 points and 11 rebounds, and the Bulldogs shot 55% to beat Mississippi 81-63 in Wednesday night’s opener of the tournament.
Jordan Harris added 21 points and Sahvir Wheeler 15 for the 13th-seeded Bulldogs (16-16), who never trailed and led by 17 early in the second half. They shot 56% in the first half and made nine of their first 14 after halftime to halt a two-game slide that ended the regular season.
Georgia also made 7 of 18 from long range against No. 12 seed Ole Miss to end a three-game series losing streak to the Rebels. Hammonds made 9 of 13 from the field and 2 of 3 from beyond the arc for his seventh 20-point game this season and second in four contests.
“My teammates put me in a great position to score,” said Hammonds, who recorded his sixth double-double this season. “Just playing hard. I was just keeping my motor up the whole game. My teammates encouraging me every time. I did the same thing for them. That was the main focus.”
Harris shot 8 of 11 overall and made 3 of 4 from long range while Wheeler was 5 of 9 with a 3. What pleased Georgia coach Tom Crean the most was his team’s consistency, poise and intensity after losing to Florida before losing by 30 to LSU to close the regular season.
Whether Georgia can sustain it to win four more games in as many days remains to be seen. Most important was starting the gauntlet right by earning the right to play another day.
“It really is about reading the game, seeing how it’s going, keeping your foot on the pedal as much as you can,” he said. “You don’t want to become reckless, careless or a settling, shooting type of team when you get a lead like that.
“There were a couple exceptions to everything that I just said. For the bottom line, not too many. I think that’s why we were able to win, we were able to keep going.”
Breein Tyree scored 18 points and Devontae Shuler 17 for Ole Miss (15-17), which got within 66-57 with six minutes remaining before Georgia extended the lead to double digits and pulled away. The Rebels shot 42%, including just 2 of 15 from 3-point range, and were edged 33-32 on the boards.
Ole Miss closed the season losing six of its final eight contests.
Georgia coach Tom Crean learned of the SEC’s announcement to restrict remaining tournament games to essential personnel and media just minutes after the Bulldogs’ victory. He initially didn’t comment as he digested the news before saying his team would adjust to playing without spectators. He then said it was best to trust those that have the best information about coronavirus.
“There’s no way that you can do anything but trust the judgment of those people, participate the way they want you to participate, be thankful that you have a chance, and continue to trust that they know what’s best,” he said.
Georgia: With highly-touted freshman Anthony Edwards tying a season low with just six points on 2-of-13 shooting and 1 of 9 from deep, upperclassmen Harris and Hammonds picked up the slack. They also had a highlight moment as Wheeler drained a half-court, buzzer-beating 3 to end the first half. That’s a sure sign things were going well, even on the rare off night for their star.
“You look at the stat sheet, plus-18 with him on the court,” Harris said of Edwards’ play. “I think he still played great. He just didn’t hit a lot of shots.”
Mississippi: The Rebels never really got in an offensive flow and struggled to contain Georgia’s shooters. That combination dug a hole they tried all game to climb out of, getting within nine midway through the second half but no closer.
“They dominated us right from the tip,” coach Kermit Davis said. “Couldn’t get back in transition. They just had more energy, more physical. Tried to make a run, we just couldn’t guard for any length of time.”
Georgia faces No. 5 seed Florida in Thursday’s second round, looking to avenge a season sweep by the Gators.
Mississippi’s season is over.
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