After a rocky stretch that dimmed its outlook, Georgia has at least steadied its season.
Mississippi State put up a fight in Stegeman Coliseum, but the home team surged in the second half and pulled away for a 79-72 victory before 5,822 Tuesday night.
Georgia rode a 12-3 run after Mississippi State tied the game at 54 on a 3-pointer by Xavian Stapleton with 6:29 to go. It led 66-57 after a J.J. Frazier alley-oop to Mike Edwards for the dunk with 3:07 to play. Yante Maten scored six points during the run including a dunk and finished with a game-high 24 points and nine rebounds.
There is still much work to do if Georgia (15-11, 6-7 SEC) is going to have the type of season it expected, but it notched back-to-back wins for first time since Jan. 7th and 11th.
“It’s good, it means we’re a team that doesn’t fold, man,” said sophomore swingman Juwan Parker, who scored 16 points on 4 of 7 shooting and went 8 of 8 from the foul line. “We’re going to come out and try to compete every night and try to give it all we’ve got.”
It was the first of four home games in a six-game stretch to close the regular season.
Georgia gets No. 13 Kentucky Saturday at 6 p.m. Georgia won 76-75 at Tennessee on Saturday and snagged its sixth straight win over Mississippi State for the first time ever.
Auburn and South Carolina each shot 50 percent or better against against Mississippi State (14-11, 5-8) in the last two games, but Georgia was held to 44.2 percent but made 16 of 24 from the field in the second half.
Georgia trailed only 32-28 at halftime despite its top players, Maten and Frazier, combining to miss their first eight shots of the game until Maten scored and completed a three-point play with 1:53 to go in the half after a feed from Turtle Jackson.
Mississippi State, which lost its third straight and fifth in the last six, made 6 of 14 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes. Freshman guard Lamar Peters, one of three on his team with 14 points, hit three 3-pointers. His team finished 9 of 24 on 3s.
“Similar to the Vanderbilt game when they’re shooting tons of 3s you want to be able to counter that with great two-point looks and free throws and today we did that,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “I was very dissapointed with our defense in the first half. …Our 3-point defense has been inconsistent and it wasn’t where it needed to be in the first half.”
Georgia made just 7 of 28 field goals in the first half, but was 12 of 12 from the line including Maten making all seven of his foul shots. Georgia finished 28 of 32 at the foul line on the night with Maten going 12 of 13.
“I thought they really exploited us with Maten inside,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said.
Mississippi State lead 28-21 after a 3-pointer from Stapleton and a steal and dunk from Eli Wright with 4:06 left in a first half in which Georgia had nine turnovers.
“I thought we had no rhtyhm with how we were trying to play,” Fox said. “I was running too many guys in and out. …Then eventually we got a couple of stops and strung together some good offensive possesions and that allowed us to get a league.”
Georgia scored the first four points of the second half to tie the game at 32, but it was aided by Mississippi State misfiring on its first five shots and having three turnovers in the first four minutes of the half.
Frazier was scoreless until he buried a 3-pointer for his first points of game with 14:30 to go after a Maten block and finished 17 points, six assists and five rebounds.
Georgia moved into a tie with Tennessee for seventh in the SEC standings.
“Every team hits adversity at one-point in their season,” Parker said. “It’s about bouncing back the right way and responding.”