Yante Maten knows when the time is right to yell at his supporting cast, and this was not that time.
“One of the things a leader has to do is encourage, so I try my hardest to encourage my teammates,” he said. “We started strong and we kind of dipped. I told everyone on the bench that we have to watch our energy level on the bench.”
Maten had 22 points and 14 rebounds, William “Turtle” Jackson and Rayshaun Hammonds each scored 13 points and Georgia held off South Carolina-Upstate 74-65 on Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs (2-0) trailed by five points with 6:40 remaining, but less than 2 minutes later Hammonds hit a 3-pointer and a layup to give Georgia the lead for good.
Mike Cunningham and Malik Moore each scored 16 points for South Carolina-Upstate (1-2). The Spartans, of the Atlantic Sun Conference, missed seven of their last eight shots.
“I thought we really were going to win the game,” South Carolina-Upstate coach Kyle Perry said. “We took some shaky shots later in the game when we should’ve taken some better ones, but that’s part of it.”
Maten, the Southeastern Conference’s active career leader in points, rebounds and blocked shots, hit all nine of his free throws and pulled down four offensive boards. South Carolina-Upstate had nobody able to contain the 6-foot-8, 243-pound Maten, who scored from all over the floor and had 17 points in the last 20 minutes.
He has two double-doubles this year and leads active SEC players with 18.
Georgia coach Mark Fox liked the contribution he got pairing Maten with 6-9 Mike Edwards, a junior reserve whose physicality led to seven rebounds and four fouls.
“We put Mike and Yante together because they are both mobile and both experienced,” Fox said. “We really switched everything when we got behind, which allowed us to get a few stops, get a couple of breaks and the lead back. This is not a normal way we want to play, but Mike’s experience I thing was key in allowing us to do that.”
But other than Edwards, Georgia got just 11 total points and four rebounds in 42 minutes from the other four reserves who played.
South Carolina-Upstate: Perry, in his first season as head coach, achieved two early goals against top competition. The Spartans lost by 15 but played well in the opener at No. 15 Minnesota. The same held true against the Bulldogs. With Georgia focused mostly on keeping them from hitting too many early 3s, the Spartans had early success in driving the lane. They were down by 11 in the first 4 minutes, but Deion Jones’ dunk cut the lead to one with 6:40 to go in the first half. As the second half wore on, the lane was clogged up and South Carolina-Upstate got forced out of the paint against a bigger, faster team, but the experience should help the Spartans grow.
Georgia: Hammonds wasn’t much easier to defend than Maten. At 6-8, 227, he has the length and quickness that will help him adjust to the rigor of the Southeastern Conference when Georgia opens league play Dec. 31 at Kentucky. Hammonds, who scored 17 in the opener against Bryant, was the first freshman to start a Bulldogs opener since Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in 2012. He’s starting in an experienced lineup of Maten, a senior, and three juniors in Jackson, E’Torrion Wilridge and Derek Ogbeide.
South Carolina-Upstate: Hosts Charleston Southern on Saturday.
Georgia: Hosts Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Sunday.