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Claxton leads in scoring and rebounding, Georgia tops UMass - Dec 31, 2018

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ATHENS - In their second-ever meeting against UMass, Georgia men's basketball returned the favor from last season, beating the Minutemen in much the same fashion in which they lost to UMass last December.

The Bulldogs used a nearly identical fast start that the Minutemen did a year ago, scoring 12 of the game's first 14 points. UMass turned around its slow first few minutes, but the Minutemen were never within single digits of the Bulldogs after the opening minute of the second half, as Georgia cruised to a, 91-72, victory.

Last season, it was UMass who began its matchup with Georgia on a 10-2 run. Bulldogs sophomore forward Rayshaun Hammonds said following the game the team knew they needed a much better start in the rematch.

'That was our main focus - don't come out slow,' Hammonds said. 'We came back from the break and just played fast, played uptempo and played how we play.'

In the second half, UMass utilized a full-court press, so the tempo increased even more. The Minutemen pulled within nine points at the 19:20-mark of the second half, but then the Bulldogs went on a 12-6 run, which sophomore forward Nicolas Claxton (211-SF-99) capped off with a 3-point play.

The run extended the Bulldogs' lead to 15.

'Once that team starts smelling that they can get it (the deficit) into single digits, the mindset just changes completely,' coach Tom Crean said. 'Nic's play was big.'

Hammonds had a similarly important play in the first half. He hit a 3-pointer while falling to the ground in the final seconds of the first half. It was an awkward shot, but something Hammonds was definitely ready to do.

'Honestly, I'm not even going to lie, I, kind of like, do that shot a couple times just for fun, like with nobody in the gym after I'm done doing my workout. I knew it would come in the game one day, so when I passed it to Derek (Ogbeide), I ran straight to that spot, and I called his name, and I just let it go.'

The fun paid off, as the 3-pointer ensured the Bulldogs led by double digits heading into halftime. Both that shot and Claxton's 3-point play early in the second half seemed to demoralize the Minutemen and helped keep the Bulldogs comfortably ahead.

Claxton posted a team-high 20 points and 11 rebounds on his way to his sixth double-double this season. Hammonds scored 18 points, including 10 in the first half, on 4-of-6 shooting. Senior forward Derek Ogbeide also reached double figures with 12 points and led the team with four assists.

While the starting frontcourt did the heavy lifting, they had plenty of help. Ten different Bulldogs made a field goal.

The Bulldogs built their lead with a 53.6 shooting percentage in the first half. Georgia made 8-of-19 from behind the arc in the victory.

UMass junior guard Lawane Pipkins scored a game-high 22 points, but he went 0-for-8 beyond the 3-point line. The Minutemen only made 4 of 22 attempts from downtown.

With this victory, the Bulldogs end their non-conference schedule with an 8-4 record. The Bulldogs have won five of their last six, including three straight, since losing two consecutive games in the Cayman Islands. Georgia's only loss during that stretch was at home to then No. 20 Arizona State, and the Bulldogs led that game at one point by 18.

With the loss, UMass fell to 7-6.

The Bulldogs return to action this Saturday on the road against Tennessee in the team's SEC season opener. The Bulldogs faced the Volunteers twice last season with the two squads splitting the series.

Georgia is 5-2 against Tennessee over the last five years, but both losses came at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville.

Tennessee entered this week ranked No. 3 in both the AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll. The Volunteers are 11-1 and have only lost to No. 2 Kansas.

After the Volunteers, the Bulldogs will host Vanderbilt in their home SEC opener, but then it's back on the road to face the No. 12 Auburn Tigers.

Crean admitted his team probably isn't ready for the environments those road games against Tennessee and Auburn will present, but he wouldn't want it any other way.

'I'm looking forward to it. Absolutely,' Crean said. 'I can't wait for that game (against Tennessee), and I know how good they are.

'It's really such a matter right now of controlling what you can control, and that's making sure we are getting better.'

Dave Holcomb   

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