ATHENS — It's not too early for Mark Fox to think about Georgia's case for the NCAA tournament — and how damaging a loss to Auburn could have been to that argument.
Jeremy Price matched his career high with 22 points and Georgia overcame a 30-point explosion by Auburn's Earnest Ross to beat the Tigers 81-72 in overtime on Saturday.
Georgia (16-6, 5-4 Southeastern Conference) outscored the Tigers 14-5 in the extra period to avoid an upset loss to the team with the league's worst record.
"At the tournament, they're going to talk about your body of work," said Fox, Georgia's second-year coach. "That's all your hear. We have avoided putting a bunch of black eyes on our body of work, and that's a plus."
No black eyes, perhaps, but Price (6 feet 8, 270 pounds) came away from the game with a cut on his right eyelid, evidence of his battles under the basket. He set a career high with 14 rebounds.
Fox said Price accepted the challenge of picking up his game because several players, including Trey Thompkins, are on medication for a virus that hit the team on its weather-delayed trip to Arkansas this week.
"Trey had an IV before the game and is not well," Fox said. "Jeremy knew he was going to have to come ready to play. I thought he consistently was pretty darn good. He played like a senior."
Or, perhaps, like a freshman.
Price also had 22 points as a freshman against Tulane on Dec. 21, 2007. He had 20 points in Georgia's opener against Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 12 and hadn't reached the mark since.
"It's the best I've played, I think, since my freshman year," Price said. "I came out pretty confident and got going quick.
"I knew some of our guys were still kind of fatigued and feeling kind of ill. I just tried to do what I could to pick the team up."
Travis Leslie had 20 points and Thompkins had 16 for Georgia.
Georgia already has matched its total of SEC wins in its 2009-10 first season under Fox, when the Bulldogs finished 14-17 overall and 5-11 in the conference.
A key difference this season has been the Bulldogs' ability to win close games. Georgia improved to 10-3 this season in games decided in the final minute.
Ross, a sophomore who averages 12.5 points, topped his previous career high by eight points. He had Auburn's only points in overtime, including his fifth 3-pointer.
Georgia's Dustin Ware had five of his seven points in the overtime period, including a basket for a 73-72 lead the Bulldogs would not lose.
Kenny Gabriel added 11 points for Auburn (8-15, 1-8).
Auburn's only conference win came at South Carolina in its last road game on Jan. 29. One week later, the Tigers played with confidence, making a comeback after trailing 33-24 in the first half.
"It was a great effort and I am proud of the way that the kids fought," said Auburn first-year coach Tony Barbee, who said his team played better than in its last game, a 69-56 home loss to Tennessee on Thursday night.
"I didn't think that we fought as a collective group in the last game, but I thought that we did today," Barbee said. "I give Georgia credit. They made the plays down the stretch when they needed to be made."
With Georgia leading 66-63 in the final minute, Gabriel missed a 3-pointer. Gerald Robinson made one free throw for Georgia before Ross scored to cut Georgia's lead to 67-65 with 14 seconds remaining.
A steal and basket by Ross tied the score with 10 seconds remaining. Robinson missed a late layup for Georgia, and Leslie's tip-in at the buzzer was waved off by officials.
Georgia wore silver uniforms for the first time this season. Fox said it was his way of applauding football coach Mark Richt following this week's highly ranked signing class. "Silver britches" are part of Georgia's football tradition.