ATLANTA - Mark Fox didn't go as far to say Friday's 65-59 overtime loss to Alabama in the quarterfinal round of the SEC Tournament was the worst defeat in his two years as Georgia's basketball coach.
Maybe not, but considering how his Bulldogs wound up on the short end on the Georgia Dome scoreboard, it certainly qualifies as one his players will not get over soon.
"This is a very hard loss, it's a tough loss for these kids and they feel awful because they invested a great deal," Fox said. "But the season is not over with."
Georgia's post-season destination would have been much clearer had it not blown a 14-point lead with seven minutes left as the Bulldogs continued a trend which has seen them struggle to put away teams all year.
This time, it was Alabama guard Trevor Relaford who drove the lane and hit a tying layup with 4.2 seconds left in regulation only to have Georgia take off in the other direction and appear to win the game when Dustin Ware banked in a running 3-pointer from 20.9 feet out.
There was just one problem.
Prior to the shot, Fox called a timeout, forcing the Bulldogs to inbound the ball with just 0.8 seconds left. Trey Thompkins put up a turnaround 3 with Green in his face, but the ball fell harmlessly away, sending the game to overtime.
Fox said he didn't call a timeout after the tying basket because he did not want to give Alabama a chance to pressure the ensuing in-bound pass.
"We wanted to get the ball up to front court for that reason alone. We didn't want to have to go the length of the floor because of the pressure," Fox said. "I thought we would have a little more time than o.8. I thought we would get the timeout with a couple of seconds. As a matter of fact, I think when I first called it, it was around two seconds. But they went to the monitor and obviously got it right. So sure, I wish I hadn't called it because the ball went in
that's a tough, tough break."
Ware said he never heard the whistle and thought he had won the game.
"Nah, I thought it was a clean shot but then I saw the referee blowing it off," Ware said. "It was definitely deflating."
The turn of events was all the momentum Alabama would need as the Crimson Tide outscored the Bulldogs 12-6 in overtime to sew up a spot in the semifinals Saturday against the winner of Friday's second game between Kentucky and Ole Miss.
The Bulldogs (21-11) had plenty of opportunities to put the game before being forced to OT.
Georgia missed a number of late free throws and some inexplicable turnovers, such as Gerald Robinson fumbling the ball out of bounds on a fast break as the Bulldogs appeared to tire down the stretch.
"I probably should have played more guys but it was a hard-fought game and I rolled the dice with those kids that carried us this far this year. But their pressure wore on us," Fox said. "It was the second game in two days and you really didn't see the effects of it until the second half. We coughed it up a couple of times just with some turnovers we haven't had all year. "
Travis Leslie led the Bulldogs with 24 points, followed by Thompkins with 19. JaMychal Green led Alabama (20-10) with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
So, where will Georgia spend its post-season?
After the game, ESPN analyst Joe Lunardi stated the Bulldogs would be left out of the 68-team field, although Fox disagreed with that notion.
"I think we're a tournament team. I don't think we had to have this game to make the NCAA Tournament. Our RPI going into the day starting the tournament was in the 30s (39), so we had a top 40 RPI, a top 40 schedule, a winning record away from home and a winning record in the SEC," Fox said. "I think the things that the committee has traditionally asked us to do. I think we've put together a resume that answers all those questions. I think we are tournament team. If I don't call that timeout, I don't even get asked that question, that's how close it is. This team I think has put themselves in tradition to get some serious consideration."
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