ATHENS — Donte' Williams watched a lot last year as a veteran frontcourt led by Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie ate up most of the minutes.
Now, as a sophomore elder statesman for Georgia, Williams must set the pace.
Williams scored 17 points and blocked four shots to lead Georgia to a 72-61 win over South Dakota State on Wednesday night.
"All last year was a learning experience," said Williams. "I have been preparing myself for this year. I think I should be ready for the challenge. I worked hard in the offseason."
South Dakota State (1-2) led by seven points in each half and was tied as late as 14:09 to play. But another Georgia (3-0) forward came off the bench to make a big contribution. Freshman Nemanja Djurisic scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half as the Bulldogs pulled away late.
Djurisic made only one of five field goals in the first half, including three misses from beyond the 3-point line. He changed his approach in the second half and the flow of the game came to him.
"Obviously I had trouble shooting," he said. "It did not go well. I went more for the inside shot. Our great defense got us some fast breaks, and I ran the floor well."
Coach Mark Fox agreed that it was Georgia's defensive stops and improved rebounding that helped the Bulldogs pull away in the last 12 minutes of the game. Georgia won the rebounding battle 41-40 after falling behind early in that category as well.
"Rebounding is just toughness," said Williams. "It is just wanting to play tough and with intensity. We just wanted to get after it."
Williams finished with seven rebounds, but teammate Marcus Thornton led with 10.
Gerald Robinson added 15 points, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope 14 for the Bulldogs, who will now play California Nov. 21 in Kansas City in the next round of the tournament.
Nate Wolters led the Jackrabbits with 15 points, and Taevaunn Prince scored 13.
Fox praised Robinson for his defensive pressure on Wolters, who was averaging 26 points a game.
"Gerald has guarded some terrific players," Fox said. "If you go back to last year, he took on a lot of great players in our league. That kid is a terrific player."
Robinson agreed. "He is a very good player," he said. "He will have a very good season."
The two teams opened the game with atrocious offense. The Bulldogs made just three of their first 18 shots, and the Jackrabbits just two of their first 10.
It was South Dakota State that first put together some offensive consistency, an 8-0 run that gave the Jackrabbits a 17-10 lead with 7:11 to go in the half. Wolters scored his first five points of the contest during the stretch.
Robinson shouldered Georgia's first-half rally, scoring seven straight points that tied the score 22-22 with 3:04 left in the half. It was still tied 29-29 at halftime after Prince's putback at the horn.
By then the two teams had warmed up to a relatively efficient 35 percent from the field.
The Jackrabbits raced to an early lead in the second half, going up 38-31 with 17:08 remaining on a layup by Chad White. But the Bulldogs rallied with a 7-0 run, capped by Robinson's steal and layup that tied the game 38-all with 15:45 to go.
Georgia took its first lead of the second half on a 3-pointer by Caldwell-Pope with 14:09 showing on the clock. At 10:20, Caldwell-Pope tipped in a basket to put the Bulldogs up 52-44.
South Dakota State hung in until Georgia's athleticism led to three straight baskets by Djurisic on a lob, a fastbreak layup and an acrobatic layup, giving Georgia a 66-55 lead with 3:36 to go.
"We hoped to wear them down some," said Fox. "This was a good win for this team to continue to build on."
South Dakota State never warmed up from the line, hitting just 12 of 23 free throws (52.2 percent).
"We scrapped," said South Dakota State Coach Scott Nagy. "But we can't miss that many free throws. We make more, and we're in the game at the end. The entire game is played differently.
"We weren't tentative the way we were against Minnesota," he added. "Shots just weren't going in today. They will eventually because we are a good shooting team."
South Dakota State comes back to Georgia on Monday to play Niagara in Macon in its next Progressive CBE game.