NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The nail on which Georgia hung its remaining pride in this basketball season was pounded out of sight Saturday.
For almost a month, the Bulldogs have watched their record get worse but have taken solace in the fact that rarely have they gone quietly or been completely without hope until the final buzzer sounded. Sharp shooting and 20th-ranked Vanderbilt took even that away in an 86-74 victory in front of 14,310 fans at Memorial Gymnasium.
Georgia led by one at halftime, but the Commodores (23-4, 8-4 SEC) shot 63 percent in the second half, including 58 percent from behind the 3-point line.
"That was the story of the game for us is that our defense wasn’t good enough in the second half to give ourselves a chance to win," Bulldogs head coach Dennis Felton said.
Georgia (12-13, 3-9) has lost eight of its past nine games.
Vanderbilt scored 24 points in the first six minutes of the second half and shot 77 percent on its first 22 second-half shots. The Commodores led by as many as 18 down the stretch. Georgia’s only other blowout loss of the SEC season came in this same state but 180 miles east in Knoxville to No. 2 Tennessee.
"There are a lot of things we know better than to do, and we did it anyway, and we got shown up for it," Georgia junior Billy Humphrey said.
Vanderbilt senior Alex Gordon led a 3-point barrage for the SEC’s second-leading long-distance shooting team by hitting 7-of-9 3s and scoring 23 points, and he didn’t even lead his team in scoring. That distinction went to senior Shan Foster, who scored 29 after hitting 7-of-10 shots and scoring 21 points after halftime.
The Commodores, who hit 12-of-26 3-pointers, got all 86 points from their starting five.
"You have to give credit to Vanderbilt," Felton said. "They are one of the best teams in the country, and the biggest reason they are one of the best teams in the country is they are one of the best offensive teams in the country, but it’s not acceptable for us to let them shoot like that."
Georgia point guard Sundiata Gaines matched Gordon’s pace in the first half, scoring 16 points, but Gaines went scoreless for the first 13:45 of the second half. He still led the Bulldogs with 24 points, while adding six assists, five rebounds and three steals.
Humphrey, who returned to the starting lineup for the first time since a recent three-game suspension, had 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting. He was limping noticeably on his injured left knee after the game and said he now feels the knee will need surgery after the season because he has a piece of cartilage or bone floating loose in it.
"It’s a different injury than it was," he said.
Georgia cut the Commodore lead to single digits only once during the final 15 minutes, and that only lasted 20 seconds.
The most fire the Bulldogs showed came from Felton, who was called for a technical foul with 12:11 left in the first half after spending the first eight minutes of the game arguing with officials about where he should be standing. The Commodores have a unique court setup which puts the teams on the baseline rather than the sideline, and in order to create a coach’s box (the area coaches are confined to on the sideline), a piece of tape has been put down on the floor.
"Throw the rule book out the window, flush it down the toilet if it doesn’t legislate the game," Felton said. "There is no coach’s box on the baseline, so that’s what I was telling the officials. I was asking the officials to show me the rule where Vanderbilt can say I have to arbitrarily stay on this side of a piece of tape they put on the floor."
Felton used no profanity and was not disrespectful, he said, but acknowledged he was "persistent" in his questioning.
"I was asking the officials to help me understand how a piece of tape on the floor could define where I could stand," he said. "I said, "If I was in the coach’s box, I would be over there on the sideline where the rules define what the coach’s box is. Obviously, they didn’t have an answer as to how to define where I should stand. For lack of an answer, their answer was a technical."