Nearly every time Georgia takes the floor, Yante Maten shows he is among the best players around.
Wednesday night at Missouri was not one of those times.
The senior forward’s showing in a 68-56 loss left coach Mark Fox critical of him after the game, saying the SEC’s Preseason Co-Player of the Year didn’t “respond to the challenge.”
By Friday afternoon, Fox looked at it a little differently: “Yante was due for a stinker. He really was. He’s played so well all year. He looked emotionally tired. He just wasn’t the guy we’ve seen all year and obviously didn’t play like that guy and he needed more help around him.”
Maten will get another chance to return to familiar form on Saturday when South Carolina (10-6, 1-3 SEC) comes to Stegeman Coliseum for a 1 p.m. tip against the Bulldogs (11-4, 2-2).
“We don’t need him to do anything spectacular, we just need Yante to be Yante,” Fox said. “He’s a very complete player. He can usually adapt to the kind of game that it is. If he has to score outside he does, if he has to score inside he does.”
Missouri 6-11, 240-pound freshman Jontay Porter helped hold Maten to nine points and two rebounds. Missouri hit six of its first seven shots in a second half in which it outscored Georgia 48-33. Maten didn’t score his first field goal of the game until 15:30 to go.
It was the first time Maten finished in single-digit points this season—his previous low was 13—and was 7.4 below his rebounding average.
“He’s had to carry an enormous load for our team and that’s a lot to bear every night,” Fox said.
Fox said after the game that Georgia didn’t defend in the second half when Missouri shot 57.1 percent and outrebounded Georgia 19-12. No other Georgia player except for Maten made it to the free throw line in the game.
Missouri’s 6-10, 252-pound Jeremiah Tilmon in one stretch in the second half scored over Maten inside and followed that with a putback on Maten, but the Bulldogs’ defensive issues around the rim were more than just on him. Georgia leads the SEC in field goal percentage defense at 38.4.
“We just didn’t have the juice,” Fox said. “I don’t know if it was the travel problems we had going there. There weren’t a lot of changes by either team schematically by either team at the half, we just didn’t execute our plan very well. We looked like a tired team in the second half, that’s taking nothing away from Missouri.”
Mechanical issues delayed Georgia’s flight departure to Missouri until 9 p.m. Tuesday.
The day after the Missouri loss, Maten was named to the John R. Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 list for nation’s top player.
Maten was one of only two from the SEC on the 25-player list, joining Alabama freshman guard Collin Sexton.
He is second in the SEC in scoring at 19.3 points per game and leads the league in rebounding at 8.9.
The Gamecocks will present challenges with “experienced, big, physical,” frontcourt players, Fox said, “led by 6-9, 223-pound sophomore Chris Silva (14.3, 7.9) and 6-10, 260-pound Malik Kotsar (8.8, 4.6). Silva went 6 of 7 from the floor and scored 13 points with three blocks in 26 minutes in a win at Georgia last season.
Georgia was swept in two games last season with the Gamecocks but won four straight before that.
“In my 10 years of coaching, that’s the one team that we can never get them to play out of character,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin told reporters in Columbia on Thursday. “We can’t ever get them to speed up and get them play differently than (Fox) wants them to play. …All of our games are just like rock fights.”
There were travel issues for Georgia returning from Missouri. The team didn’t get back to Athens until 4 p.m. Thursday, Fox said, costing the team “a work day.”
“Time for a new travel company,” he said before saying that maybe it will end up helping Maten to get more rest because the team missed that day’s practice.