Senior center Dave Bliss banked in a 10-foot jump shot with .4 seconds remaining to lift the Bulldogs over Ole Miss 97-95 in overtime in the first round of the SEC Tournament. The game didn’t end until 12:33 a.m., and it kept all 15,563 fans in the Georgia Dome on the edge of their seats until that moment.
“I thought the game was played at a very, very high level,” Felton said. “I thought both teams played extremely well. Neither team made plays to lose the game as much as they did to win the game.”
The Bulldogs survived despite breaking one of the sport’s cardinal rules twice. With 7.1 seconds remaining in regulation and the Bulldogs ahead by three, Georgia junior Billy Humphrey fouled Ole Miss sophomore David Huertas on a 3-point attempt. Huertas hit all three free throws to send the game into overtime tied at 84-84.
Georgia had another three point lead with 5.5 seconds remaining in overtime when Corey Butler fouled Rebels freshman Chris Warren on a 3-point attempt. Warren also hit all three to tie the game at 95-95.
The Bulldogs, who didn’t have any timeouts, quickly inbounded the ball to point guard Sundiata Gaines, who had to give the ball up to Butler, who drove to the free throw line before kicking the ball to the right side to Bliss for the deciding basket.
“He made a great pass to me, and I made a shot,” said Bliss, who had four blocks in the second half and five for the game.
Georgia (14-16), the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Division, advances to play East No. 2 seed Kentucky tonight at 9:45 p.m. in the Georgia Dome. Ole Miss (21-10), the No. 3 seed in the Western Division, suffered a significant blow to its NCAA Tournament hopes with the loss.
The Bulldogs blew a 13-point lead in a four-minute span midway through the second half but managed to get to overtime thanks to a career-high 25 points from Terrence Woodbury, clutch free throw shooting from Humphrey and Gaines.
Ole Miss pulled within one point at 77-76 on a putback basket from Dwayne Curtis with 1:20 remaining, but Humphrey hit six consecutive free throws on Georgia’s next three possessions. He was 8-of-8 from the line for the game.
Gaines, a 57 percent free throw shooter, was 11-for-12 from the line in the second half.
“It’s probably a long time since that happened,” said Gaines, who had 22 points. “I was watching Bob Knight on ESPN and he said the main thing for teams winning and guys making plays is concentration, and that’s something I did today. I really concentrated on every free throw. I knew every one was crucial, and I didn’t want it to be my last.”
Gaines picked up his fourth foul with 8:48 left in regulation but managed to go the rest of the way without fouling out. With the game tied 68-68 with 6:22 left, Gaines began a span in which he scored nine straight points. He hit a 3-pointer with 2:38 left to give the Bulldogs a 77-74 lead.
Georgia, which had lost 11 of 13 coming into the game, shot 54 percent from the field, its best percentage of the SEC season, and had surpassed its previous scoring high for an SEC game before overtime arrived.
“It was really gratifying to see so many of our players step up and make so many tough, hard-earned plays in a timely manner from beginning to end,” Felton said. “Ole Miss would not go away. Every time we thought we had it, they found a way to make another play.”
Felton’s job status has been the hottest topic surrounding this team in the last week. Athletic director Damon Evans watched Thursday’s game with interest, but Felton was unwilling after the game to talk about how the victory might have affected his status.
“How could I possibly sit here and do Damon Evans’ thinking for him,” he said. “That’s a question best suited for Damon.”