By Andrew Frierson
There was a whole new atmosphere surrounding Stegeman Coliseum on Friday night as both the men’s and women’s Georgia basketball teams played their first game of the 2018-2019 season.
The student section was flooded with red and black along with the rest of the arena to watch the number fourteen ranked Georgia Lady Bulldogs tip off against the St. Bonaventure Bonnies.
After a back and forth start in the first five minutes of action, the Bulldogs went on a 13-2 run to end the first quarter up 21-10. Seven of these points belonged to Georgia’s standout forward Caliya Robinson who finished the game with a game-high 15 points and nine rebounds while only playing three quarters. In the second and third quarter, the Bulldogs stellar defensive skills showed by only allowing the Bonnies to total ten points. The presence of Mallory Bates first three blocks in the paint forced St. Bonaventure to start shooting more from the perimeter where they struggled the entire game. Taja Cole also impressed totaling double digits in points along with five rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
This game marked the beginning of four new careers on the Georgia Lady Bulldogs with three freshman and one transfer student all making their debuts. These four players were freshman Caitlin Hose, Donnetta Johnson, Kaila Hubbard, and Maryland transfer Jenna Staiti who sat out last season due to NCAA regulations.
Staiti had the highest point total out of the four with nine, but she fouled out late in the fourth quarter. Hose, Johnson, and Hubbard all recorded their first field goals as members of the program. Hubbard impressed with her six rebounds in just twelve minutes of play while Hose recorded four rebounds, two assists, and two steals in eighteen minutes. The future stars of this Lady Bulldogs team showed poise and composure in their collegiate debuts which is an early sign of a bright future for this team.
The debut of the Tom Crean era in Athens, Georgia did not leave the Georgia fans disappointed. Throughout the whole game, he was electric on the bench as he coached the team to a 110-76 victory over the Savannah State Tigers.
The Georgia offense started off on an absolute tear with a 14-0 run to start the season. The offense was ignited by sophomore Nicolas Claxton as he scored the first four points on two monstrous slams followed shortly by his first block of the game. He would finish with career highs in three categories with fifteen points, thirteen rebounds, and five blocks. He trailed only Teshaun Hightower as the highest scorer on the Georgia team as Hightower posted his career high in points also with eighteen to begin his sophomore campaign.
Tyree Crump lit up the entire audience with his span of multiple three pointers within two minutes as he totaled fourteen points on the night. Rayshaun Hammonds posted a line with nine points and nine rebounds falling just short of a double-double. Derek Ogbeide and Amanze Ngumezi also reached double digits in points with twelve and ten respectively as every player on the Bulldog roster minus one scored in the rout of the Tigers.
The theme of this game was how Savannah State slowed down the Georgia offense by speeding up the pace of the game. The Bulldogs were forced to speed up their gameplay due to the Tigers constantly pressing at half court and shooting from the perimeter over fifty times.
Much to my delight, the Georgia players also stated postgame they were amazed by how often Savannah State pulled up from the three point line. It was an offensive display unlike any other. However, it was extremely ineffective as they shot 29.8% on fifty-seven shot attempts.
This game does not dictate how the Georgia offense or defense will matchup against different teams the rest of this season as not many teams will play the same defensive formations as Savannah State. Coach Crean expressed how impressed he was by his opponents and their ability to wear down the Georgia players which lead to the Tigers cutting the halftime deficit of twenty-five to nine early in the second half.
However, Crean also praised the young Georgia team for remaining calm throughout the collapse and continuing to trust the offense until the shots started to fall again. After the short run by the opposition, the Bulldogs offense began to spark again leading to a blowout in the final score. By the end of the game, Georgia finished shooting 57.1% from the field in the debut of the Tom Crean offense at Stegeman.
Much like the women’s game I discussed previously, there were multiple players debuting their collegiate careers at Stegeman Coliseum on Friday night. Among these players were JoJo Toppin, Tye Fagan, Amanze Ngumezi, and Ignas Sargiunas.
All four of these freshman had an immediate impact on the Georgia offense coming off the bench as Sargiunas scored seven points along with a nifty assist that got the crowd off their feet. Fagan had the most minutes out of the four with seventeen as he posted three points, four assists, three rebounds to go along with one block. The Stegmania dunk contest champion Toppin finished with four points and three rebounds in eleven minutes of play.
This was the most excited I have ever been watching Georgia basketball.
Last season, I only missed two home games the entire year so I have become familiar with the team and even become friends with some of the players. Just seeing this offense take off in such a commanding fashion to start the season excites me for the upcoming season. If this team can continue to play disciplined basketball on both sides of the court, there is no reason they should not be a force in an increasingly strong SEC in the basketball scene.
Tom Crean was a great coaching hire for this program with tremendous amounts of young talent especially at the sophomore level. I would love to see this team clinch a NCAA tournament bid by the end of this season.
Basketball may not have always been a huge sport in Athens, but get ready because that’s about to change.