Photo by Christine Troyke
ATHENS -- Zach Graham played a cameo role in his Georgia homecoming, but the Peachtree Ridge grad made his small scoring appearance count.
The Ole Miss forward didn't have a field goal until 7:17 left against Georgia, but minutes later he would score the game-changing points.
First, he drove the lane for a diving layup over fellow Gwinnett product Trey Thompkins and on the next possession he hit a 3 from the top of the key. The five-point explosion gave No. 21 Ole Miss a 75-70 lead with 4:44 remaining. It was a lead the Rebels would cling to in Georgia's 80-76 loss. It is the second consecutive SEC loss for the Bulldogs (8-7, 0-2 SEC).
"I never get to come home so it is good to come home and see my family," Graham said. "The most important thing is we got the win."
Graham showed up late, but Thompkins showed up first.
To start the game, Georgia just kept finding Thompkins open under the basket. In the first eight minutes, the Wesleyan grad scored eight points with only two coming from outside the paint.
Then he hit a 3. And that was about it. Thompkins, coming off a double-double in Saturday's loss to Kentucky, ended the game with 21 points and seven rebounds.
With Thompkins harassed in the paint, Parkview grad Ricky McPhee tried to pick up the slack. He started slow, hitting his first three at 4:49 to beat an expiring shot clock but he ended the half with another 3 in the final 20 seconds that allowed the Bulldogs to retake the lead and head into the half leading 43-42. He ended the game with 15 points, but was just 3 of 7 from 3-point.
Georgia led by as many as six in the first half getting plenty of easy looks against an Ole Miss zone and in transition in the opening minutes. The lead would have been larger had it not been for the Rebels (13-3, 1-1) hitting seven first-half 3s, three apiece from Chris Warren and Trevor Gaskins.
Graham didn't score his first point until he hit a pair of free throws at the 13:01 mark of the first half and he didn't stay in the game much longer after that. The junior hit his pair of free throws for Ole Miss, but was quickly pulled after a missed jumper and a defensive lapse. He re-entered and played 11 minutes off the bench. He ended the game with 11 points.
"I was just trying to be aggressive," he said.
Georgia watched its one-point lead turn into a seven-point deficit early in the second half when Rebel sophomore Terrico White scored eight points in the first eight minutes. But Travis Leslie answered with 15 second-half points and McPhee hit his third 3 and a runner in the lad to pull Georgia within one at 58-57.
Then Graham showed up with his game-changing baskets. Georgia would pull to within a point, but down two, Ole Miss' Eniel Polynice put the game away when he inbounded the ball off Thompkins' back under the Rebels' basket and made the easy layup with 13 seconds to play.