Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope poured in a game-high 20 points in Wednesday's victory against bitter rival Auburn.
ATHENS — Georgia coach Mark Fox had no difficulty summing up his team’s victory over Auburn.
“It was an ugly game,” Fox said. “It was so physical. Both teams were playing so hard and when you’re playing that hard, it’s hard to play pretty.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds to help Georgia beat Auburn 57-49 on Wednesday night.
The Bulldogs (9-11, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) have won three of four.
Frankie Sullivan and Allen Payne each finished with 13 points for Auburn (8-12, 2-5). The Tigers, who have dropped five straight, matched their season-low in points and shot a season-worst 28.3 percent from the field.
Caldwell-Pope, Georgia’s leading scorer in 18 of 20 games this season, gave the Bulldogs a four-point lead with a putback at the 1:09 mark and followed with two free throws to make it 53-47 with 31 seconds left.
“Toward the end of the game, we had to knock down free throws,” Caldwell-Pope said. “Some of us did, but we also missed 11 free throws (throughout the night). We’ve got to continue to get better on free throws at the end of games.”
Georgia began the game ranked No. 325 in the nation in scoring and still finished two points under its average, but Auburn was the team that struggled all night offensively.
Sullivan, the SEC’s third-leading scorer, didn’t produce a point until the 8:45 mark of the first half, but hit a 3 early in the second half that brought the Tigers within one, at 28-27.
The senior guard finished just 4 of 12 from the field, though, and missed four free throws.
“It’s mostly on me because I took the most shots and I just missed them,” Sullivan said. “Sometimes you have to know when it’s on you, and it felt like it was on me tonight. I just couldn’t pull through.”
Auburn went nearly 7 full minutes without a basket in the second half until Jordan Price’s layup cut the lead to 34-33 with 10:53 remaining.
The Tigers failed to score a field goal in the final 2:42.
“I didn’t think we were very good defensively either,” Auburn coach Tony Barbee said. “Georgia had some players step up and make plays. Our intensity defensively was slow. We backed off and didn’t really get anything going.”
In the last 1:14 of the first half, the teams combined for three turnovers and four fouls. The only points came on two free throws by Sullivan, who was fouled on a 3-point attempt by Kenny Gaines with less than 1 second remaining.
Georgia led 26-22 at halftime.
Neither team led by more than six points until Vincent Williams hit a pair of free throws to end the scoring in the final seconds.
Chris Denson added 12 points for the Tigers, who visit No. 17 Missouri on Saturday. Missouri’s players could be looking to release some frustration after getting upset Wednesday at LSU, which began the night with the SEC’s worst record.
“We have to play harder and smarter,” Sullivan said. “We did well on defense for 30 minutes, but we have to play for 40 minutes, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Caldwell-Pope, the league’s No. 2 scorer with a 17.5 average, believes Georgia is starting to build some confidence after opening the SEC schedule 0-3. The Bulldogs visit South Carolina on Saturday.
“This is a turning point for us,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We’ve won three of the last four games, but we’ve just got to take it game by game like I said.”
Fox just hopes the next game isn’t so ugly. Georgia and Auburn combined for 46 fouls and 23 missed free throws. In the second half, they went a combined 1 for 13 on 3-point attempts.
“We’re becoming more consistent,” Fox said. “That doesn’t mean we’re still not making a ton of mistakes — and there’s a lot of room to grow here — but they just keep battling and trying to get better. I’m proud of our team. These kids have worked hard and stayed fully bought in and invested in the process.”