TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A former Alabama teammate had reminded Philip Pearson to grab the game ball as a memento when he picks up his first win as a head coach.
“I forgot all about it,” the Crimson Tide’s interim coach said.
Everything else went pretty well for Pearson on Saturday night. Alonzo Gee scored 20 points, Senario Hillman added 19 and Alabama beat Georgia 75-70 in a battle of teams trying to rebound from midseason coaching changes.
JaMychal Green had 14 points and 13 rebounds for the Tide (13-8, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) in the team’s first home game since coach Mark Gottfried resigned.
“It was very important,” Green said. “We’re going through a lot now. It was a great win.”
Georgia (9-12, 0-6) was unable to come back from a 12-point second-half deficit in the debut of assistant Pete Herrmann, who had two days to get the team ready after coach Dennis Felton was fired following a seven-game losing streak.
“That was the most challenging thing, having to turn around and play in 48 hours after an emotional roller-coaster,” the former Navy head coach said. “I’ve been with Coach Felton for 11 years, every practice and every game. To not have him with me was very different, very tough emotionally.
“I wish we could have won this game for coach, but we didn’t do that.”
When the two fill-in guys clasped hands after the game, it capped a hard week for both men and their teams.
“He just told me that was a pretty good basketball game between two interim coaches,” Pearson said.
Georgia flirted with making it really interesting at the end.
Terrance Woodbury hit a 3-pointer and Trey Thompkins added a basket inside, making it 71-65 with 1:51 left. Georgia then forced two turnovers but couldn’t convert either into points. The Bulldogs got five points from Dustin Ware in the final 21 seconds to make it closer.
Gottfried stepped down on Monday and Felton was fired three days later after the Bulldogs’ seventh straight loss.
Anthony Brock missed a free throw but quickly stole the ball back and scored on an open layup with 26 seconds left for Alabama’s first basket in nearly 7 minutes. Ware hit a long 3 and then the Tide’s Mikhail Torrance missed another foul shot to keep Georgia’s hopes alive.
But Ward’s 3-pointer and Albert Jackson’s putback attempt both missed.
Demetrius Jemison hit two free throws with 7 seconds left for the Tide.
Pearson took over the Tide before a loss at Arkansas Thursday night. Georgia’s Hermmann was back in charge of a program for the first time since his six-year tenure at Navy ended in 1992.
The matchup of struggling teams was somewhat sparsely attended. The official attendance was 11,046, down more than 1,000 from the Tide’s average in its first three SEC home games. But there were an abundance of empty seats.
Trey Thompkins led Georgia with 22 points and 14 rebounds. Woodbury added 15 points and Ware 11 for the Bulldogs.
Gee, who had 15 points in the first half made all three of his 3-point attempts after hitting only two in his previous seven games. Hillman hit 3-of-4 3-pointers and had five steals and three assists. Green blocked three shots.
“It’s always good to get into a rhythm early in the game,” Gee said. “We both got into a good rhythm and we finished the game strong.”
The Tide had 10 players play at least 9 minutes and at one point in the first half Pearson had every starter on the bench.
Alabama had taken a 40-35 halftime lead after hitting 6-of-7 free throws over the final 1:14. The Bulldogs were at least happy to get their first game post-Felton out of the way..
“No question it was a little bit different,” Jackson said. “This is a big growing point for everything. It was good to get back on the court and work a little frustration out.”