There was a buzz in the air inside Stegeman Coliseum on Tuesday night as the Georgia men’s basketball team opened its season against Western Carolina. With 10 new players on the roster, it was a new-look squad starting the new season.
A lot of folks were no-doubt there to get their first look at Anthony Edwards, the heralded 6-foot-5 and 225-pound freshman from Atlanta, one of the most high-profile newcomers in the country. And after a slow start — he hit just three of his first 12 shots — Edwards put on a show, finishing with a game-high 24 points, plus nine rebounds and three assists before fouling out in the closing minutes.
Edwards hit two critical 3-pointers from the top of the key on back-to-back second-half possessions in the Bulldogs’ 91-72 victory over the Catamounts. They came after a Western Carolina bucket cut the Bulldog lead to 65-63 with 6:44 remaining.
“Those were in-rhythm, good-balance 3s,” second-year coach Tom Crean said. “And he did a good job. He was aggressively looking for it. And that’s what we want for him, not to settle. When the ball is moving, when it’s moving in the flow of the offense like that and it’s getting swung and he’s ready to shoot, that’s where he needs to be.
“I like the fact that those were catch-and-shoots because that’s where he really needs to improve for us.”
Edwards wasn’t the only newcomer to make a splash, not by a long shot.
Sahvir Wheeler, listed at 5-foot-10, is seven inches smaller and about 45 pounds lighter than Edwards, who is built like an all-world tight end, or a Mack truck. Wheeler might not have the size to easily bang on the boards for rebounds with much taller players, but there is no hesitation from the Harlem-born and Houston-raised newcomer when it comes to making things happen inside.
Attacking the rim, Wheeler took over the game for a while in the second half of his Bulldog debut. He came off the bench to score 5 points and hand out two assists in the first half but was in the starting lineup to begin the second, and made the most of the opportunity.
Wheeler scored the opening basket of the second half on a drive inside, putting Georgia up 39-38. He scored the Bulldogs’ next bucket on a fast-break drive to the rim. And he kept going.
“I think Sahvir thinks he’s 6-4, the way he attacks the rim,” Edwards joked.
In the first seven minutes of the second half, Wheeler scored 10 points — 10 of Georgia’s 14 points in that stretch — and assisted on a Tyree Crump 3-pointer.
“I try to make an impact,” Wheeler said. “That’s all Coach Crean talks about, being ready when your name is called — go in, have fun and make an impact. If that’s what I can do, bring your pace, driving, getting to the lane, finding people and making layups, that is what I’m going to do, anything for the team to win.”
The two freshmen were the Bulldogs’ top two scorers in the win, which ended with Georgia on an 8-0 run to blow open what was a tight game throughout. Edwards’ night also included a massive standing ovation that he clearly appreciated.
“Oh, that is a moment I will never forget,” he said. “Just the crowd giving me standing ovation, it brought joy to my heart. It will be something that will always stay with me.”
Among the other newcomers, transfer Donnell Gresham had five points and nine rebounds, Christian Brown had five points and three rebounds and Rodney Howard added four points. Crump, a senior on this young team, hit three 3s and finished with 15 points, while Rashaun Hammonds, a junior, had seven points and a team-high 12 rebounds.
There is much work still to be done, as Crean emphasized several times afterward, but it was a great, memorable opening night.
John Frierson is the staff writer for the UGA Athletic Association and curator of the ITA Men’s Tennis Hall of Fame. You can find his work at: Frierson Files. He’s also on Twitter: @FriersonFiles and @ITAHallofFame.