NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The Georgia Bulldogs came out a bit too excited at the beginning, then coach Mark Fox says they lost their minds after going up by as much as 16 points.
Luckily, they had built a big enough lead.
J.J. Frazier scored 28 points, and Georgia beat 11th-seeded Mississippi State 79-69 Thursday night at the Southeastern Conference tournament.
“I didn’t think we handled the double-figure lead very well,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “You knew that a team that could end their season in the game would come storming back, especially with the seniors that they have. So we talked at the timeout, ‘Let’s recompose ourselves here and get back to playing with some stability.’ And we were able to do that defensively and certainly kind of slow their finish.”
The sixth-seeded Bulldogs (18-12) won their fourth straight game in trying to make a final case for an NCAA Tournament berth, and they will play No. 4 seed South Carolina on Friday night in the quarterfinals.
Yante Maten added 20 points for Georgia, which swept both games against Mississippi State this season. Charles Mann had 12, and Kenny Gaines 10.
Mississippi State (14-17) wrapped up coach Ben Howland’s first season with its second loss in three games.
“I was really proud of our comeback, again the way our guys fight and never quit, they never give up,” Howland said.
Craig Sword led Mississippi State with 19 points, Fred Thomas added 17 and I.J. Ready 13.
Georgia led 42-34 at halftime shaking off a bit of a slow start where the Bulldogs missed six of their first seven shots.
“We just came in kind of excited, too excited,” Mann said. “We (weren’t) taking the best of shots. We just missed some easy ones. I mean we just had to get calmed down and get in rhythm.”
Mississippi State led by as much as five, the last on a layup by Malik Newman with 7:59 left in the first half at 24-19. Georgia finally settled down and went on a 12-0 run, and Mike Edwards’ jumper broke the fifth and final tie in putting Georgia ahead to stay at 26-24 with six minutes left. Frazier capped the spurt with a 3 putting Georgia up 31-24. Another 7-0 run gave Georgia a 40-29 lead on a Maten 3-pointer with 1:51 to go.
Georgia opened the second half outscoring Mississippi State 15-7, taking its biggest lead at 57-41 on a layup by Maten.
Mississippi State finally came back, using 10 straight points to get back within 68-64 on a 3-pointer by Thomas with 7:02 left. Mann finally scored on a layup after Georgia had missed eight straight shots, and Mississippi State couldn’t get closer than four as the Bulldogs missed 10 of their final 14 shots.
“We had a chance to win the last seven, eight minutes with a play here and a play there,” Howland said. “But Georgia’s a very good team.”
Georgia wasn’t much better, hitting only 2 of its final 13 shots to keep Mississippi State around.
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs outrebounded Georgia 38-35. … The Bulldogs now are 3-6 in tournament games at Bridgestone Arena and dropped to 29-53 all-time in the tournament. … Senior Gavin Ware was 1 of 7 and finished with two points and 10 rebounds.
Georgia: The Bulldogs are the only team other than Kentucky to reach the semifinals the past two tournaments. … The Bulldogs now are 43-53 all-time in the tournament and 34-34 since it resumed in 1979. … The Bulldogs now are 10-3 against Mississippi State in this tournament. Georgia was 24 of 28 at the free-throw line compared to 15 of 18 for Mississippi State.
Mississippi State: 2016-17 season.
Georgia: South Carolina on Friday night.
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