Georgia routs Mississippi State 66-45 in SEC hoops
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Kenny Gaines scored 14 points and Georgia moved closer to locking up a spot in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament, routing Mississippi State 66-45 on Wednesday night.
Georgia (17-12, 11-6 SEC) remained third in the league and still hopes to make a run at the NCAAs, though a middling RPI ranking likely means it would have to win the regular-season finale at LSU and at least beat either No. 1 Florida or No. 25 Kentucky in the SEC tournament.
The top four SEC teams receive a bye through the first two rounds of the tourney, which will be held next week in Atlanta.
Georgia trailed 16-8 in the early going but took control before the first half was done, leading 37-24 at the break.
Last-place Mississippi State (13-17, 3-14) is closing out another dismal year under second-year coach Rick Ray, who went 10-22 in his debut season. His team shot just 34 percent (17 of 50) and had no one in double figures.
Georgia swept the season series, winning the two meetings by a combined 41 points.
In a repeat of the teams’ first game at Starkville, Georgia got off to a sluggish start before turning things around with its superior depth, closing out the first half on a 29-8 run. The home team knocked down seven straight shots after beginning 2-of-13 from the field.
Mississippi State closed the half with an especially brutal stretch.
With 14 seconds left on the shot clock, I.J. Ready fouled Charles Mann far away from the basket. After Mann sank both free throws, Mississippi State tried to run the clock down as much as possible before getting off a final shot. But Trivante Bloodman turned the ball over driving toward the basket, and Georgia took off the other way with 5 seconds left — enough time for Mann to flip a lob pass to Kenny Gaines for a thunderous dunk just before the buzzer.
Mann and Gaines chest-bumped before Georgia ran off the court to a raucous ovation from the sparse crowd, up comfortably by 13.
When the teams met three weeks ago, Georgia fell behind by 14 points in the first half before rallying to win 75-55 — its biggest road triumph in the past three seasons.
Marcus Thornton added 13 points and Mann had 10. In all, 10 players scored for Georgia.
Roquez Johnson and Craig Sword led Mississippi State with 9 points.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963