December 18, 2012

Dawgs win for the kids

Georgia's basketball team earned a much-needed win Tuesday afternoon against visiting Mercer 58-49, but this particular victory was a bit more special than most.

Over 4,000 elementary school children from Clarke County livened up what was a rare matinee, a fact that gave Bulldog head coach Mark Fox pause to reflect in light of the tragic school shooting in Connecticut which has left the entire nation numb.

"With what happened in Connecticut, you can't look at those kids without," said Fox, his voice trailing. "I've got kids who go to elementary school and I can't imagine what those families are going through. So often in this country we lose sight of the things that are most important.

"But when we have a chance to help the kids in our community, we should do it. We don't do it enough - any of us - so today did feel different and I hope those kids had a good time because they certainly added a lot of energy to our building."

The Bulldogs (3-7) gave them something to cheer about.

Georgia led 26-20 at the half, and despite falling behind early in the second , outscored the visiting Bears (6-6) 14-8 over the final 8:52 to win going away.

"We beat a really good basketball team today. I want to thank Coach (Bob) Hoffman for agreeing to play the early game. It meant a lot to the kids of this community and he was terrific about it from when I first approached him," Fox said. "Not every coach would agree to that; I have a lot of respect for how he runs his team and I thank him for agreeing to play the early tip because that's not easy to do."

Bulldog freshman Charles Mann said the visiting youngsters provided just the sort of motivation Georgia needed to break their three-game slide.

"It still hurts my heart, what happened in Connecticut," said Mann. "We played for the kids. We wanted to win for them."

Every Bulldog bucket was met with shrill screams of excitement, something Kentavious Caldwell-Pope laughed that he couldn't help but hear after a breakaway dunk early in the game.

"They were excited to see us and we were excited to put on a shot or them," Caldwell-Pope said. "It was great to have their support."

Caldwell-Pope led the Bulldogs with 17 points and fell one rebound shy of his third consecutive double-double. Mann chipped in with nine points.

Mercer - which beat Florida State 61-56 two weeks ago - did not have a player finish in double-figures.

"We beat a good basketball team. They'll be a team that has a chance to win their league and play in the NCAA Tournament," Fox said. "When you beat a good team, you feel good about it and our kids have had a tough start to the year so today was a sign of growth."

For Mann, the game marked his first career start in place of senior Vincent Williams. Sophomore John Cannon also earned his first career start, opening in place of Nemanja Djurisic.

"I think Charles has earned the starting job; Vince has been very supportive of Charles and I appreciate his attitude in that situation," Fox said. "John Cannon probably would have started the last game if we had better matchups. He's been pretty productive and today we had matchups that could get him into the lineup."

NOTES: Junior forward Marcus Thornton returned to action after missing the game against Iona with an injured knee. … The Bulldogs return to action Saturday when Southern Cal pays a visit to Stegeman Coliseum. Tip-off is set for 1:30 p.m.