Georgia guard Vincent Williams, left, and Georgia Tech guard Chris Bolden, right, scramble for a a loose ball during the first half of their game Tuesday in Atlanta.
ATLANTA — Brian Gregory’s defense-first philosophy is paying off for Georgia Tech in its state rivalry with Georgia.
Freshman Marcus Georges-Hunt scored a career-high 18 points and Georgia Tech never trailed while beating Georgia 62-54 on Tuesday night.
Georgia Tech (5-2) has won back-to-back games against the Bulldogs for the first time since three straight wins from 1992-94. The wins have come in Gregory’s first two seasons.
“Getting back to back wins in this series is amazing,” Gregory said.
“When you get a good win against a rival, and you see the guys playing better and competing better like this, you can really get a measure for where you are in your development.”
That measuring stick paints a less encouraging picture for Georgia, which continues to struggle on offense.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led Georgia (2-6) with 16 points. The Bulldogs had no other scorer in double figures.
“Our scoring has worried me for quite some time,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox. “We’re not scoring the ball at an efficient enough rate to win. We need more guys to step up and finish plays. … That’s a real thorn in our side at the present time.”
Caldwell-Pope has been the Bulldogs’ leading scorer in every game, but the sophomore has had too little support in the team’s disappointing start.
“We do need some other players to score besides me,” Caldwell-Pope said. “It would help a lot.
“We’ve got to run our offense with authority. We just can’t let people push us around.”
Georgia made only 31.6 percent of its shots (18 of 57) from the field.
“Our defense has gotten pretty good,” Gregory said. “I think we can be a really good defensive team, but we have to rebound better.”
Georgia claimed a 43-38 advantage in rebounds and took a 30-10 lead in points in the paint. That wasn’t enough to offset the Yellow Jackets’ superior outside shooting.
The Bulldogs made only 2 of 17 3-pointers. Georgia Tech shot much better from long range, making 9 of 21 3-pointers.
“I thought the difference in the game was the 3-point shooting by Tech,” Fox said. “They shot the ball very well, especially in the first half. They built the lead, so we played uphill all night, and that’s very hard to do on the road.”
Gregory said a key was Mfon Udofia’s senior leadership down the stretch. Udofia’s status was in question after he hurt his left ankle in the Yellow Jackets’ loss at Illinois on Wednesday.
“At first I didn’t know I was going to play,” Udofia said. “After that game against Illinois I was on crutches.”
Udofia said he had to at least “act like I was going to play” because it was his last game against Georgia.
Gregory said Udofia and fellow senior Pierre Jordan “get to do something very special in their careers by winning back-to-back games in this series. That’s something I told these guys will never be taken away from them.”
Udofia was in a walking boot after playing 31 minutes. He scored 12 points, including a three-point play with about 1 minute remaining after Georgia cut the Yellow Jackets’ lead to 55-50.
“I think you’re starting to see Mfon Udofia grow into a leader,” Gregory said.
Georgia Tech fans chanted “ACC! ACC!” in the final minute, mocking Georgia fans’ “SEC! SEC!” chant in the Bulldogs’ football win over the Yellow Jackets two weeks ago.
The Yellow Jackets kept their lead in double figures for a stretch of almost 15 minutes — from less than 5 minutes remaining in the first half until Marcus Thornton scored on a spinning drive for Georgia with about 10 minutes remaining. Thornton’s basket cut Georgia Tech’s lead to 45-37.
Brandon Morris, who had 9 points, scored inside for Georgia to cut Georgia Tech’s lead to 48-42.
Udofia answered with a 3-pointer for the Yellow Jackets. Robert Carter made only one of two free throws, but Daniel Miller rebounded the miss to set up another 3-pointer by Georges-Hunt, pushing the Yellow Jackets’ lead to 55-42.
Georgia made another charge with an 8-0 run to cut the lead to 55-50.
After Udofia missed two free throws, Georgia called a timeout with 1:48 remaining but was denied when Daniel Miller blocked Vincent Williams’ shot.
Udofia’s three-point play pushed the lead back to eight points.
Georges-Hunt set the pace for the game when he blew past Thornton on a baseline drive for the Yellow Jackets’ first basket. Thornton, usually one of Georgia’s top rebounders, was called for his second foul about 5 minutes into the game and sat out the remainder of the half.
Georges-Hunt’s previous scoring high was 14 points in the season-opening win over Tulane.