Mike Mercer led all scorers with 19 points, including the back-breaker, a steal in rear court and a subsequent dunk that put Georgia (2-1) ahead 72-66 with 50 seconds left. It was Billy Humphrey, however, who breathed life into a Georgia offense had sputtered through the opening minutes of the second half.
The Bulldogs needed nearly all 40 minutes to dispatch a pesky Eastern Kentucky team (1-2), which had taken Wisconsin to two overtimes in its first-round game here. Indeed, the Colonels led for much of the first half and kept the momentum into the second period.
“This was an extremely gratifying win because of the progress it shows that our young team has made so far,” Georgia coach Dennis Felton said. “We knew Eastern Kentucky presented a difficult challenge for us. We knew they were tough to guard because they play so well together and they’ve got great shooters all over the floor.”
Eastern center Alonzo Hird gave the Colonels their largest lead of the game at 49-42 on a putback with 14:07 left. The lead remained at six nearly two minutes later, when Humphrey connected on a 3-pointer that got the Bulldogs within three at 50-47.
Humphrey’s trey began a string of six consecutive field goals by Georgia from 3-point range. By the time the sixth bucket dropped – another by Humphrey at the 7:43 mark – the Bulldogs had taken a 63-57 lead.
“We just kept doing what we do best…play hard, move the ball on offense and play together,” Humphrey said. “I knew that if we stayed confident that good things would happen and they did.”
Still, Georgia led by just 70-66 when Eastern’s Jason McLeish connected with 2:33 left. The Colonels were then unable to capitalize on a Levi Stukes turnover and a Georgia possession that produced three missed shots. Mike Rose rebounded the third miss and lofted an errant pass, which Mercer intercepted and slammed home an unchallenged dunk.
Humphrey, who was the game’s high rebounder with 10, secured the victory with four free throws over the final 30 seconds. In Georgia’s second-round win over Fordham on Sunday, he had teamed with Mercer to score 32 of the Bulldogs’ 79 points.