But thanks to Charles Mann, Juwan Parker and the unlikely Kenny Paul Geno, Georgia rallied for a surprisingly lopsided 75-55 victory over Mississippi State on Wednesday night at Humphrey Coliseum.
Mississippi State took an early 22-8 lead, but Georgia responded in a hurry, taking a 28-27 lead by halftime and pushing its advantage to 23 points at one point late in the second half. Georgia shot 17-of-23 (73.9 percent) from the field in the second half, picking apart Mississippi State’s defense with crisp passing and a soft touch around the rim.
Mann led the Bulldogs with 19 points, Parker added 16 and Geno had a career-high six points during a crucial rally in the first half.
“I thought we were much more organized in the second half and we were very unselfish,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We made plays for other people and it led to easy baskets.”
Fox said more than half of the team was dealing with varying degrees of the stomach flu over the past few days. Mann was one of the few that stayed healthy, and he carried the team, adding six rebounds and five assists.
Georgia couldn’t have started the game much worse. The Bulldogs needed more than six minutes to make a field goal, missing their first eight attempts.
Georgia (13-10, 7-4 Southeastern Conference) is now tied with Mississippi for third place in the league. The Bulldogs meet the Rebels on Saturday in Athens.
Mississippi State (13-11, 3-8) has lost six straight. It was a miserable shooting night for Mississippi State, which was just 3-of-25 attempts (12 percent) from 3-point range. Craig Sword led Mississippi State with 10 points.
Mann was 4-of-7 from the field and 10-of-11 on free throws. The 6-foot-5 sophomore said the Bulldogs never lost their cool even after falling behind early.
“We were just more aggressive,” Mann said. “We stayed calm and composed. It was early and we just kept pushing and playing our game.”
Fox used 12 players in the first half, trying to find a few who could produce some offense. Things started to turn when Fox put rarely-used freshman reserve Geno into the game.
The 6-foot-6 Geno — a Booneville, Miss., native — scored six points as the Bulldogs rallied, going on a 20-5 run to take a 28-27 lead into halftime.
Geno said he grew up a huge Mississippi State fan and his family had season tickets to both football and basketball games.
“I was just trying to give us an energy boost on defense and rebounding,” Geno said.
And the good times continued for Georgia early in the second half. The Bulldogs pounded their way inside for easy baskets and stretched their lead to 57-39 on Marcus Thornton’s layup with 8:16 remaining. Georgia scored 40 points in the paint.
After the game, a big group of fans from Booneville, which is about 90 miles from Starkville, cheered as Geno walked through the tunnel.
“Half of Booneville was here,” Geno said. “It was cool to come out after warmups and see everybody in red.”