ATLANTA — After winning four Southeastern Conference games all season, Georgia has won three in three days. Two of them came Saturday, improbably leading the Bulldogs into the championship game of the SEC tournament.
Sundiata Gaines scored 20 points before fouling out and Georgia, playing its second game of the day, overcame a thin roster and little rest to stun Mississippi State 64-60 in the semifinals.
Charles Rhodes scored 22 points for Mississippi State (22-10), which finished first in the SEC West, but his late technical foul helped Georgia, the last-place team in the East, pull off its second upset of the day.
Georgia (16-16) will face Arkansas in today’s final with hopes of completing a highly unexpected march to the NCAA tournament. The Bulldogs were only 4-12 in the league during the regular season and entered the tournament with coach Dennis Felton’s job status in apparent jeopardy.
"Nobody wanted to give us credit," Gaines said. "We made history today but we’ve got to finish it out tomorrow."
Gaines hurt his hip on a hard foul when picking up his fifth foul on a charge with 7:18 left, but he said the injury wouldn’t keep him out of Sunday’s game.
"I can’t really worry about that right now," Gaines said. "I’m not worried about the hip. I’m worried about my team. ... This just shows if we play together anything is possible."
Georgia upset Kentucky 60-56 earlier Saturday in a quarterfinal game pushed back a day due to the tornado that damaged the Georgia Dome the previous night.
The Bulldogs’ win over Kentucky was impressive enough, but few expected they would have enough left to even remain competitive against Mississippi State.
They did — and even had enough left over to celebrate the win. Corey Butler slapped hands with Georgia fans and Felton left the court pumping his fist and slapping hands with several boosters hanging over tunnel.
The semfinal was played before an estimated crowd of 1,000 at Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum, where the final two days of the tournament were moved after a tornado ripped through the Georgia Dome during the quarterfinals Friday night.
Mississippi State led 60-59 with 1:37 left but couldn’t score again. Billy Humphrey, who scored all six of his points in the final 2 minutes, made two free throws for a 63-60 lead with 7.6 seconds left following Rhodes’ technical foul.
Humphrey, who averages 12.4 points per game, scored his first basket on a drive with 1:54 left for a 59-58 lead. After a basket by Rhodes, Humphrey’s jumper with 1:20 left gave Georgia a 61-60 lead.
Humphrey missed a free throw with 47 seconds left, but Georgia retained possession when Mississippi State knocked the rebound out of bounds. Butler couldn’t inbound the ball and was called for a five-second violation before he could call a timeout.
Mississippi State’s Barry Stewart missed a short jumper and fouled Georgia’s Zac Swansey wth 21 seconds left.
Swansey missed the free throw, but Rhodes did the same at the other end, then was called for a technical foul after Butler grabbed the rebound and was fouled.
Gaines carried Georgia with 16 points in the first half. Albert Jackson chipped in with 12 points and eight rebounds.
Ben Hansbrough had 12 points for Mississippi State and Stewart added 10, but the two combined to make only 5 of 24 shots from the field.
Georgia opened strong, taking a 10-2 lead on a dunk by Jackson and stretching the lead to 15-4 on Gaines’ third 3-pointer of the first seven minutes.
Soon the lack of rest began to show. The Bulldogs’ two top inside players, Dave Bliss and Jackson, each had three fouls in the first half. Georgia was called for 13 fouls in the half; Mississippi State had only five.
Bliss, tired and frustrated, was called for a technical after his third foul.
Gaines also picked up two early fouls and left the game as Mississippi State pulled even at 21-21 with eight straight points. Gaines was summoned from the bench, and he almost immediately delivered his fourth 3 of the half.
Hansbrough hit a 3-pointer to give Mississippi State its first lead at at 29-27 before settling for a 33-33 tie at halftime.