Claxton leads in scoring and rebounding, Georgia tops UMass
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By BLAKE GILES
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) Getting off to a fast start has not been the problem for Georgia's basketball team. Sustaining the effort? That has been something altogether different.
Paced by 20 points and 11 rebounds from Nicolas Claxton, the Bulldogs started fast and stayed with it in a 91-72 win over Massachusetts Sunday.
"We try to stress a fast start," said Coach Tom Crean, "but I tell our guys it is not how many points you score, but how well you defend and how well you rebound. I am proud of the fact we never lost the lead. Winning is huge, but improving while you win is even better."
Rayshawn Hammonds chipped in 18 points and eight rebounds in the final tuneup for Georgia (8-4) before Southeastern Conference play begins. Tyree Crump came off the bench to score 14.
The Bulldogs bolted to a 12-2 lead in the opening moments, and did not allow a Minuteman rebound until the 14:19 mark when Laurent corralled a missed Georgia shot.
"I was not aware of that," said Crean. "That is really good. I like rebounding with two hands. You are not going to get one-handed rebounds in this league. It is a high-level league."
Crean was speaking of the SEC, which has four teams currently ranked in the top 25, including No. 3 Tennessee, the Bulldogs' next opponent.
Georgia dominated the Minutemen in rebounding, 43-27. UMass also struggled on offense, hitting only 4 of 22 from the 3-point line, an 18-percent rate. The Minutemen came in shooting 38 percent from long range.
"Yeah, we just couldn't ever get momentum there as far as shooting the ball from the high 3-point line," said UMass coach Matt McCall. "That doesn't happen most nights for our basketball team, and I thought that really, really hurt us, the ball not going into the basket the first half."
"To hold them to 18 percent from the 3-point line and to outrebound them by 16 was great," said Crean.
The Bulldogs shot well: 54 percent from the floor, 42 percent from behind the 3-point line, and 87 percent on free throws.
The first-half lead got as big as 23-10 after a corner 3 by Hammonds with 10:40 to go. But Samba Diallo sparked UMass on an 8-0 run with a backdoor layup and a putback, closing the gap to 23-18 with 8:27 to go.
Georgia's long-range game late in the half built a 43-32 halftime lead as Claxton, Crump and Hammonds all hit 3s, the last a fallaway from the corner with just five seconds left in the half.
Massachusetts scored the first basket of the second half to briefly close the margin to single digits, but that was the last time.
Georgia was never seriously threatened and gradually built its lead. The final 19-point spread was as big as it got.
UMass: Massachusetts was outrebounding its opponents in its first 12 games, but the Minutemen were no match inside for Georgia. They did not have a single rebound for nearly six minutes. UMass also failed to shoot up its standards. Luwane Pipkins' driving layups were the one highlight in the game.
Georgia: The Bulldogs have shown a propensity for building big leads only to let them evaporate, as in a 76-74 loss to Arizona State, and in last week's 70-59 win over Georgia Tech. But the collapse never came in this game as Georgia held a comfortable lead throughout.
Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh attended the game Sunday, one day after the Wolverines lost to Florida in the Peach Bowl, 41-15. "I have not seen him yet," Crean said of his brother-in-law after the game. "That was a tough game he had yesterday. Jim is hurting after that game. But it is great that the (Baltimore) Ravens won and are in the playoffs." John Harbaugh coaches the Ravens.
HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT AHEAD
Georgia has played two ranked teams so far this year, losing to both Clemson and Arizona State. But the next one will be Tennessee on its home floor. Crean was asked if Georgia was ready. "Probably not, but I am looking forward to it. You control what you can control," he said. "They don't have any weak points. Your fundamentals have to grow. When you are playing an outstanding coach (Rick Barnes)-and he is a hall of fame coach-your margin of error goes way down. You can't have a ton of slippage."
BACK IN TOWN
While it was the first visit for UMass to Athens, it was a return visit for two Minutemen. Center Djery Baptiste played 10 minutes against Georgia in 2017, and also twice last year at other locales, before transferring from Vanderbilt as a graduate student. He managed to score 2 points Saturday, his high against Georgia. This was his first game he was eligible. "I think he's a presence on the backboard," McCall said. "He can really rebound the ball. You look down at the stat sheet; he plays 13 minutes and gets five rebounds, is 1-for-2 from the field. He's energetic and brings endless amounts of energy."
Forward Randall West was in Athens Nov. 17 as the third-team quarterback on the football team that lost to Georgia 66-27. So far, he has been simply a tourist in Athens, as he did not play in either game.
Massachusetts begins Atlantic 10 play at home Saturday against LaSalle.
Georgia opens Southeastern Conference play with the difficult assignment of traveling to Knoxville, Tennessee, to play the No. 3 ranked Volunteers Saturday.
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Updated December 30, 2018