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Georgia knocked out in first round of tourney
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TAMPA, Fla. — Kodi Augustus finally seems to have his attitude, work ethic and game in shape.

If it would have happened sooner, Mississippi State might be a lock for the NCAA tournament.

Augustus, who started the first nine games of the season before getting benched because of his lackadaisical effort, scored a career-high 19 points and Mississippi State beat Georgia 79-60 Thursday in the opening round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.

Augustus was 6 of 9 from the field and 3 of 4 from 3-point range — an unexpected hot streak for a sophomore who came into the tournament averaging 5.4 points a game and shooting just 22 percent (4 of 18) from behind the arc.

“I was really surprised,” said Georgia’s Terrance Woodbury, who led his team with 14 points and seven rebounds. “We went over him a little bit ... but I didn’t think he was going to be as good as he was. He played real well, and I want to say that’s a real plus for them as far as advancing in this tournament.

“If he keeps up his aggressiveness as far as what he did against us, they pretty much have the talent to beat anybody.”

Augustus and Mississippi State (20-12) certainly made quick work of Georgia (12-20), the defending SEC champs who were looking to make another shocking run through the tournament. This year, it could be Mississippi State’s turn. The team will face South Carolina in Friday’s second round, probably needing a couple more wins to earn an NCAA berth.

MSU can only hope Augustus keeps it up. He hit consecutive 3-pointers to start a 16-2 run midway through the opening half that turned a tight game into double-digit lead.

Jarvis Varnado, who finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds, made a couple of shots in the paint. Riley Benock hit a jumper and suddenly MSU looked more like the team that started 6-2 in conference play rather than the one that lost five of its next six.

Ravern Johnson sank a free throw, then prompted a timeout with his third 3-pointer of the half with 5:51 left. MSU was up 30-17 at that point and extended the lead to 14 with Brian Johnson’s rebound and dunk just before the halftime buzzer.

Georgia sliced into the 40-26 halftime lead by outscoring MSU 13-5 after the break, but MSU pulled away with more 3s. Barry Stewart and Augustus made back-to-back shots from behind the arc, then Stewart added another one a few seconds later that made it 60-44 with 12:13 to play.

“Our team is capable of doing that,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “That’s what makes us difficult to guard.”
MSU finished 9 of 24 from 3-point range.

Georgia wilted down the stretch, no surprise for a team that’s spent much of this season in turmoil. Coach Dennis Felton was fired in late January after Georgia started 0-5 in league play. Interim coach Pete Herrmann took over, but the losses kept mounting.

Georgia won three of its final six heading into the tournament, giving players confidence they might be able to pull off another improbable run to the NCAA tournament.

MSU didn’t let it happen.

“You definitely don’t want to see it come to an end,” Georgia’s Corey Butler said.

Johnson, MSU’s top 3-point threat, had a quiet game. He was 3 of 10 from behind the arc and finished with 12 points. No worries, though, Augustus picked up the slack.

He’s come up big the last three games — not coincidentally, all wins. He scored nine points in a win against Florida, 13 three days later at Mississippi and now this. Stansbury said Augustus always had the talent — the 6-foot-8 forward has range and the ability to handle the ball — but couldn’t get on the court until recently making a commitment to working harder in practice.
Augustus likes the reward, too.

“It feels good,” he said. “(My confidence), it’s high. It’s always been high, but I guess even better now because it’s starting to show and producing when I get in.”
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