ATHENS — The offensive statistics indicated Georgia struggled in its opening game, at least in the first half.
Georgia coach Dennis Felton hardly noticed. He was too busy admiring his team’s defense.
Georgia had 20 steals, forced 29 turnovers and pulled away with a 24-6 run in the second half to beat South Carolina-Upstate 72-48 on Friday night in the opening game for each team.
The Bulldogs made only 33 percent of their shots while leading 27-18 at the end of a sluggish first half. Felton said those numbers didn’t reflect his team’s strong defense.
"Actually, I was extremely pleased with the entire game in that we just flat defended like we wanted to," Felton said.
Zac Swansey and freshman Travis Leslie each had 11 points for Georgia (1-0). Corey Butler, freshman point guard Dustin Ware and junior Ricky McPhee each had four steals.
McPhee and Terrance Woodbury each added 10 points.
South Carolina-Upstate couldn’t keep pace in its first game against a Southeastern Conference team since losing at Mississippi on Nov. 30, 1985.
The Spartans will play another SEC opponent, in-state rival South Carolina, on Nov. 22. Coach Eddie Payne also has scheduled games at Notre Dame and Boston College in the Spartans’ first six games, and they face Gonzaga in their final regular-season game.
"The schedule that we play is prohibitive in terms of winning games against Notre Dame and Gonzaga and SEC teams," Payne said.
"It’s a function of a second-year Division I program. Our approach is we understand all this and we’re going to make it challenging and expose our kids to a high level of basketball. ... We’ll have a lot of growth pains, but the philosophy behind it is hopefully that will help our team mature perhaps a bit faster."
Georgia’s newcomers played lead roles.
McPhee, a walk-on transfer from Gardner-Webb, made two 3-pointers to reach double figures while playing only 11 minutes.
Leslie, a 6-foot-4 wing player, provided the first-half highlight when he drove the baseline for a one-handed tomahawk dunk for his first points. He stirred the fans again midway through the second half with a whirling reverse layup and added another dunk with one minute left.
After his first college game, Leslie already drew a comparison to the most celebrated player in Georgia history, Dominique Wilkins.
"They don’t come any more athletic than Travis," Felton said. "It’s like the second coming of ‘Nique."
The Bulldogs led only 30-26 just three minutes into the second half before taking control with the 24-6 run for a 54-32 lead. Woodbury capped the run with a fast-break dunk.
Georgia shot 53.6 percent from the field in the second half.
"I think what opened things up in the second half was we got some easy opportunities off some steals," Felton said.
"Obviously we won’t be stealing it 20 times every night. I’d be shocked if we were able to accomplish that again this season, and we won’t force everybody into 29 turnovers. But tonight was a really good indication of what kind of team defensively we can be and how committed the guys are to playing at that end."
Freshman Carter Cook led South Carolina-Upstate (0-1) with 11 points. Bobby Davis added nine points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
Georgia forward Jeremy Price was led to the locker room with six minutes left after being hit in the eye. Another forward, Albert Jackson, fouled out in 11 scoreless minutes.