ATHENS, Ga. – Powered by a second-half rally, the University of Georgia men’s basketball team opened the 2021-22 regular season with a 58-51 victory over Florida International Tuesday evening before 6,023 spectators at Stegeman Coliseum.
Graduate Aaron Cook led Georgia (1-0) in scoring with 10 points, along with eight assists, six rebounds, and three steals. Senior Braelen Bridges, junior Jaxon Etter, and sophomore Kario Oquendo each tallied nine points, with Bridges hauling in a team-high eight boards.
For the evening, the Bulldogs shot 35.1 percent from the field, although their clip rose to 41.4 percent in the second half. On the defensive end, Georgia outrebounded FIU (0-1) by a 46-36 margin and held the Panthers to 33.9 percent shooting.
“I thought our guys did a really good job of having tremendous intensity throughout the game,” said Georgia head coach Tom Crean following the game. “It certainly amped up in the second half with our defense, even when our shooting wasn’t going the way that it needed to be. We had three stops in a row eight times, which is a huge number for us. It’s right up there with deflections. We had 42 deflections. Aaron Cook had 10. We had three stops in a row eight times. That’s big. That’s the kind of thing that’s the game within the game for us on the bench.”
After graduate Jailyn Ingram scored the first points of the season, FIU controlled the early portion of the game with strong shooting from beyond the arc, building an 11-4 lead by the second media timeout as the Bulldogs went nearly six minutes without a score. Following a 3-pointer from Etter to stop the drought, the Georgia offense heated up thanks to Bridges, retaking the lead with six minutes remaining in the half. However, the Panthers pulled back ahead with their outside shooting, capped off by a buzzer-beater to take a 27-22 lead into the locker room.
Beginning with a 3-pointer from Cook, Georgia rattled off seven unanswered points in the first 90 seconds of the second half to retake the lead, quickly building up to five by the first break. FIU transitioned to an inside game in the second, kicking off a back-and-forth style that would continue for the remainder of the night. The Panthers continued to lead throughout the middle portion of the period before freshman Christian Wright put the Bulldogs back on top with a beautiful baseline spin move with under eight to play.
Following the timeout, a pair of pivotal moments shifted the game’s momentum as FIU’s Clevon Brown missed two free throws, followed by a flagrant foul on teammate Aquan Smart that allowed Georgia to regain the lead. The Bulldogs eventually extended the lead to eight with five minutes remaining, but the Panthers responded with one last challenge and cut the lead to three with two minutes left. Nonetheless, Georgia was able to seal the contest with a turnaround jumper by Ingram, punctuated by a reverse layup from Oquendo.
“Our shooting will get better, but tonight it was our defense,” said Crean. “It was our rebounding. They are a very good team, a very good three-point shooting team. Our guys, for the most part, did a pretty good job of the adjustments we were trying to make to guard them over the last few days”
Georgia now heads on the road for a matchup against Cincinnati on Saturday, Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. EST. The game will be streamed live on ESPN+. Last season, the Bulldogs bested the Bearcats, 83-68, on Dec. 19 at Stegeman Coliseum.
COURTESY UGA ATHLETICS