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Dogs best Arkansas in first round of SEC tourney
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It was the type of game Georgia had found ways to lose all year, but Thursday, the Bulldogs served notice that this was a new season.

Georgia overcame a slew of second-half foul trouble and some sloppy play to not only fend off an Arkansas rally, but pull away to secure an emphatic 77-64 win in the opening round of the SEC tournament behind stellar outings by Travis Leslie and Trey
Thompkins and a stifling defensive performance down the stretch.

The dynamic duo accounted for 44 points — including 13 from Thompkins in the second half — and Georgia advanced to the second round where it will face Vanderbilt on Friday night.

An unbalanced, albeit it mostly effective, first half ended in dramatic fashion for the Bulldogs, as Ricky McPhee drained a 3 as time expired to send Georgia to the break with a 40-32 lead. But the build-up the dramatic last shot provided plenty of room for both optimism and concern.

On the plus side of the ledger for the Bulldogs, Leslie and Thompkins looked every bit like future NBA lottery picks. Leslie hit 6-of-8 shots in the first half and was a force on both ends of the court, picking up five rebounds, a block and a steal to go with his 14 points first-half points. Thompkins added 10 points in the early going to pace the Bulldogs’ offense.

The problems came in the backcourt, however. Aside from McPhee’s buzzer-beating heroics, it was a disconcerting stretch for Georgia’s guards.

After the Bulldogs built a 25-17 lead with 8:42 to play, Vincent Williams turned over consecutive inbounds passes to spark a 7-0
Arkansas run. Georgia’s guards accounted for seven turnovers and just three assists in the half.

Of course, halftime leads are nothing new for Georgia. Protecting them, on the other hand, has been a chore that has frustrated Mark Fox’s crew all season. The Bulldogs lost six SEC games in the regular season in which they led at the break, including blowing a 37-22 halftime lead in their first meeting with Arkansas. But Thursday, things were different.

Georgia was called for 15 fouls in the second half and Thompkins and McPhee each played much of the frame with three fouls. Still, it was Georgia that proved to be the more physical team down the stretch.

Courtney Fortson hit a jumper with 5:27 left to play to pull Arkansas to within five, but rather than relive so many of the heart-breaking collapses of the regular season, Georgia shifted into overdrive.

Thompkins and Leslie capped the night by scoring eight points in the final 5:08 while the Bulldogs’ defense effectively shut down any hope of a Razorbacks rally. Fortson, who finished with 16 points, hit a basket with 4:48 to play, and Arkansas wouldn’t convert another field goal the rest of the way.

Michael Washington finished with 20 points for the Razorbacks and McPhee and Dustin Ware each chipped in 10 for Georgia.
The Bulldogs will take on No. 20 Vanderbilt tonight at 9:45 in a game that is filled with upset potential. Georgia beat the Commodores at Stegeman earlier this season and fell by just two points in overtime in Nashville.

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