ATHENS, Ga. -- This time, there was no second-half comeback.
Georgia ended the first half with a 21-2 run and went on to beat East Tennessee State 54-38 in a non-conference basketball game Friday night at Stegeman Coliseum.
The Bucs (1-3) stayed with Georgia (2-4) for the first 10 minutes before the Bulldogs pulled away. ETSU couldn’t manage many good looks at the hoop against its bigger and more athletic opponent, which blocked nine shots.
“When you can’t put the ball in the basket, it’s just painful,” ETSU coach Murry Bartow said. “I can count 10 or 12 times where we got the ball inside, got it to the proper spot where I thought we could score and we got nothing. Georgia is so good in their man-to-man and they’re so long. And we couldn’t finish.”
The Bucs wound up shooting 28 percent (14 for 50) while scoring their fewest points since getting 36 against Maryville College during the 1947-48 season. Georgia made 63 percent of its field goal attempts.
The Bucs, who were without senior guards Sheldon Cooley and Marcus Dubose thanks to their drug-related arrests, started a lineup consisting of three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior. Cooley and Dubose each missed their second game after being suspended indefinitely.
“Every game we’re gonna learn and get better,” ETSU’s Lester Wilson said. “We can’t say ‘We’re young.’ It’s just us now. It’s just us nine guys. Regardless what we think, we still have to produce.”
Wilson’s 3-point shot gave ETSU its first and only lead, 11-10, with 12:10 left in the first half. The deficit seemed to wake up the Bulldogs, who promptly scored the next 15 points, highlighted by a dunk from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, en route to a 21-2 run to close the half.
After Wilson’s 3-pointer, the Bucs managed only a pair of free throws from Wilson in the final 12 minutes of the half. Georgia led 31-13 at halftime, thanks to 68 percent shooting.
Meanwhile, the Bucs went 4-23 (17.4 percent) from the field in the first half.
“We were forcing shots,” Wilson said. “And we weren’t moving to our spots fast enough on defense, getting to our position where we needed to stop them.”
ETSU’s freshman point guard Petey McClain had a hand in the Bucs’ first six field goals, scoring three and assisting on the other three.
Unlike their previous game, when they came back from a 20-point first-half deficit to win against Charleston Southern, the Bucs couldn’t make up for this start. They cut into the deficit by scoring the first five points of the half, all by McClain and climbed within 11 points twice. But both times ETSU appeared close to getting back in the game, Caldwell-Pope drained a dagger-like 3-pointer.
The Bulldogs’ biggest lead was 19 points.
“I was talking to our staff and I kept saying ‘If we’d just get to 50,’ ” Bartow said. “I thought maybe we could win 50-48. But we just can’t score the ball right now. We have some issues with our offense coupled with Georgia being a really good defensive team. Look at their game against UCLA, look at their game against Indiana. They are very good in their man-to-man and that’s where we struggle.”
Wilson led the Bucs with 12 points Rashawn Rembert provided a spark with three 3-point baskets in the second half. McClain played 37 minutes and finished with eight points and four assists. When he was out, Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard, a 6-5, 250-pound forward, ran the point.
John Walton led the Bucs with six rebounds.
Caldwell-Pope led Georgia with 13 points and seven rebounds. Donte Williams added 12 points. The Bulldogs did not score from the foul line, missing their only attempt.
“I thought it was a very hard fought game,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We have played five games in 12 days so we have not had a lot of time to practice recently. We know what we have to work on, so we’ve had to work on those things in our games.” The Bucs return to action Thursday with a home game against Milligan College before hitting the road for games at James Madison (Dec. 5), North Carolina (Dec. 8) and Ole Miss (Dec. 14).
“We have to get better in the next 12 days,” Bartow said.