ATHENS, Ga. -- Georgia coach Mark Fox was worried about his team’s slipping confidence prior to Wednesday’s somewhat surprising 81-59 win against Arkansas.
Fox’s Bulldogs (11-12, 2-7 SEC) had hung with their opponents until the closing minutes of most of their conference games, only to fall out of contention at the end. A wire-to-wire dominant win against an Arkansas team that entered with a 16-7 record was good medicine for the young Georgia team, Fox said.
“We were just at that point where they needed to have some success,” said Fox, whose team visits No. 20 Mississippi State (19-5, 6-3) on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. ET. “They’ve been improving, but they still needed to get the result that they wanted, so it was good to have a night like they had the other night.
“It’s just kept them on course of coming to work every day to get better. And if we stay on that path, then we’ll continue to improve. The only way to stay on that path is just to have some successes along the way.”
Georgia had lost four consecutive conference games, by an average of only 8.25 points per game, so the Bulldogs seemed to be perpetual bridesmaids for a period.
By taking such a sizable early lead against the Razorbacks -- Georgia led by as many as 27 points against an Arkansas team that still has not won on an opponent’s home court -- the Bulldogs didn’t have to engage in another tooth-and-nail fight in the closing minutes.
“It’s good to finally taste the fruits of our labors because we’ve been working so hard correcting some things. We’ve come close, but we’ve just had some lapses,” sophomore forward Marcus Thornton said. “But I think just us being able to see that we can really beat a pretty good team soundly, it’s a good feeling and it gives us confidence that we can go out and do it more times.”
For Georgia to compete with Mississippi State, it might need another strong outing from Thornton, who scored a career-high 10 points and grabbed five rebounds against Arkansas after struggling with knee pain the day before the game.
“It was pretty bad, but not in my mind was it to the point where I wasn’t going to be able to play,” Thornton said. “Every now and then I’m going to have a day where it’s really hurting, but I’ll suck it up and keep going.”
Mississippi State has one of the league’s most imposing frontcourts, led by Arnett Moultrie (17 ppg, 11 rpg) and Renardo Sidney (10.3 ppg, 5 rpg). That shapes up as a mismatch for Georgia, although it dominated Arkansas in the paint on Wednesday.
“They have an NBA frontline and they surround that with terrific shooting and a senior point guard [Dee Bost] who’s having a great season,” Fox said. “They’re nationally ranked for a reason. I think they’re very, very good.”
Thornton practiced in an extremely limited capacity on Friday in order to be ready for Saturday’s visit to Starkville. Fox knows his team needs its most physical post player to be as close to 100 percent as possible to have a chance against Mississippi State.
“He gives us the ability to play in the paint with some physicality, rebounds the ball well,” Fox said. “He’s got a pretty versatile offensive game and he just really hasn’t been able to get into a rhythm this year.
“The other night, you saw him, he shot the 3 in, he got an offensive rebound putback, he drove the ball to the goal. Those are all plays he can make and those will be plays he ultimately will make consistently. The key will be to get him healthy and just to keep getting him more and more comfortable.”