'We finally got our W': Bulldogs rely on free throws down the stretch to stun Alabama
ATHENS, Ga. — Braelen Bridges walked off the court with a smile on his face after Georgia upset Alabama on Tuesday evening at Stegman Coliseum.
The Bulldogs (6-14, 1-6) prevailed, 82-76, over the Crimson Tide (13-7, 4-4) for their first conference victory of the season.
The fans started yelling “just like football” with 17.3 seconds left, which made Bridges chuckle.
“Obviously, we just won a national championship, so I could tell that it was going to come,” Bridges said. “When the time was going down, and we finished out our victory, it felt good. It was a good thing to say because it’s a big rivalry in football and we came out with the win tonight [on the court[. I am happy to see this happen, especially tonight.”
Both squads traded blows throughout the first half, although Alabama held a 42-36 advantage at the break.
Crimson Tide guard Jaden Shackelford totaled 16 points in the opening half, nailing 5-of-7 made 3-pointers. He also pulled down three rebounds and dished out two assists, respectively. Alabama freshman center Charles Bediako also added his only eight points and pulled down six rebounds. The Crimson Tide finished off the first period by shooting 53.6 percent from the field and registered a 37.6 mark from the 3-point line.
Georgia junior guard Jaxon Etter had a pair of consecutive 3-pointers to help the Bulldogs maintain a lead about midway through the first half. Regardless, Shackelford buried three of his five made triples from beyond the arc in the final eight minutes of the half to power Alabama’s offensive attack. Even so, a strong finish from both Kario Oquendo and Dalen Ridgnal helped keep the Bulldogs in the game as the deficit sat at single digits.
Georgia took its first lead of the second half as Jabri Abdur-Rahim nailed his fifth continuous free throw at the 4:11 mark. The Bulldogs took advantage of the free-throw strike and hit 18 in the final six minutes of regulation to secure the victory. The freshman guard registered 10 of them in that timespan. Bridges, Oquendo, Aaron Cook and Christian Wright also were responsible for a made shot from the charity strike in the final few minutes.
Georgia head coach Tom Crean pointed out that his players struggled to get to the line early in the contest, adding that they needed to hit those free shots when it mattered.
“I thought a big turning point was the foul on Jabri for three shots, and I think that cut us to one or two,” Crean said. “That was huge, huge, absolutely huge. And we gotta go to that line with confidence and we did. Braelen made his late. He's way better than shooting in the 50s in the last week. He's way better than that. Braelen goes 3-for-3, he spent a lot of time on free throws and the technique. It paid off tonight.
Cook said after the game that this victory gave the Bulldogs a huge confidence boost.
“We just had to learn how to win,” Cook explained. “It’s huge for our spirits going forward and I think it gives us a lot of confidence going into this next game at Vanderbilt.”
Georgia had four players score double digits, including Cook, who totaled 15 points. Bridges and Abdur-Rahim added 13 points, while Oquendo registered 11 points, respectively.
Alabama was led by Shackelford, who had a game-high 20 points but was limited to only four points in the second half. Senior guard Keon Ellis added 15 points with a team-high nine rebounds, followed by Noah Gurley, who registered 11 points and six boards.
Crean said this victory shouldn’t surprise anyone, despite losing eight straight coming into the contest.
“I’m proud of these guys for a lot of reasons,” Crean said. “ … They're buying into the fact that we believe we're going to win. And tonight, we didn't see those ghosts that we sometimes see, when things start to go bad for us. And I'm proud of the way they played.”
Bridges, after pointing out the football team’s recent national title, acknowledged a phrase similar to what Kirby Smart might say, which is “to keep the main thing, the main thing.”
“It felt very good, everyone’s been waiting on this moment after working hard in practice,” Bridges said. “Now, it’s about staying consistent, and not getting down. Our main focus is to take it one game at a time, and we finally got our W. We will continue to build on that.”