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Georgia edges Illinois at Gwinnett Arena

DULUTH -- With more than half the crowd of 4,008 wearing Illinois orange, it certainly didn't feel like a home atmosphere for Georgia.

But the Arena at Gwinnett Center remained kind to the Bulldogs on Saturday night, serving as the site of a signature victory for first-year coach Mark Fox.

The Bulldogs stunned Illinois 70-67 and two former Gwinnett high school standouts -- Trey Thompkins and Ricky McPhee -- were a big reason. In fact, Wesleyan graduate Thompkins was the biggest.

Thompkins didn't start after missing practice time during the Bulldogs' 10 days off for semester exams because he needed two wisdom teeth removed. But he was around at the end.

Just 3-for-6 at the foul line previously, Thompkins was a perfect 4-for-4 in the finals seconds, capping a 21-point effort.

The 6-foot-9 sophomore made two foul shots with 22.2 seconds remaining to put Georgia (5-4) ahead by a point, then hit two more with 6.6 seconds left.

"I just imagined myself being back in my backyard as a kid knocking down free throws so I could get in and eat dinner," Thompkins said. "You have to make shots like that."

Illinois (8-3) had a chance to force overtime, but Demetri McCamey missed a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The victory was Georgia's third without a loss at the Gwinnett Center. The Bulldogs defeated Georgia State in 2005 and beat Gonzaga in 2006. The Gonzaga win was certainly significant, but maybe not as significant as this one.

"Illinois has a lot of tradition in basketball and beating them shows just what we can do," Parkview graduate McPhee said. "This was a big victory, especial with Coach Fox coming in and just getting started here."

"I feel that we will move forward from here," Thompkins said. "There will be more chances like this to win big games and build this program."

Travis Leslie had 17 points -- including a thunderous dunk -- and McPhee scored 12, hitting a pair of 3-pointers.

The victory was Georgia's first after five losses against Illinois and just the ninth by the Bulldogs in 30 meetings with Big 10 teams.

McPhee is used to seeing a lot of orange as a Parkview graduate, but he didn't expect to see quite so much of it at the Gwinnett Center rooting against Georgia.

"We figured that we'd have a few more fans," McPhee said. "But the atmosphere was great and it was a big victory for us."

Fox has warned his players before they took the court that "it would seem like a road game." Asked if seeing all the Orange fired up his team, Fox said, "I hope it did."

The Illinois fans were definitely heard. But the Georgia fans that did make it had more to cheer.

Georgia, coming off road loses to Virginia Tech and St. John's, twice led by nine points in the second half, the last time with 4:55 remaining on a basket by Leslie that followed a 3-pointer by McPhee.

But Illinois went on a 9-2 run, taking a 67-66 lead with 35.6 seconds left on a 3-point play by McCamey. The Bulldogs pulled it out, though, thanks to Thompkins' free throws.

McCamey led Illinois with 21 points, but the Illini were held 13 points under their scoring average by a strong Georgia defensive effort. The Bulldogs had a 38-22 edge on points in the paint and out-rebounded Illinois 37-29, with Albert Jackson grabbing a game-high eight.

The Bulldogs came out hot, taking a 16-11 lead and the game was tied at 32 going to the intermission. Georgia shot 49.1 percent to 45 percent for Illinois.

The Bulldogs have four games, including a home date with Georgia Tech on Jan. 5, before opening SEC play at Kentucky on Jan. 9. Georgia plays Florida Atlantic and Pepperdine in Athens before going to Missouri.

Thompkins and his teammates hope to feed off the Illinois win for momentum going into the SEC. And Thompkins is just glad to be able to eat without pain.

"My teeth were bothering me, especially when I ate," he said. "I'm glad I had them out and I'm glad we got this win."