Georgia coach Mark Fox hugs forward Brandon Morris after Wednesday’s overtime win against Missouri. Fox was brought to tears after the victory, which came four days after his father died. (Reuters)
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Georgia coach Mark Fox spoke to his father, Raymond, for the final time on Christmas.
The message that the elder Fox had for his son was simple:
“You need to play some damn defense,” Mark Fox remembered. “And he was right. He was right.”
Less than a week after Raymond Fox died at the age of 78, Georgia picked up its grieving coach in a 70-64 overtime win late Wednesday against No. 21 Missouri.
It did that by playing defense.
The Bulldogs (7-6, 1-0 SEC) held Missouri guard Jordan Clarkson, the SEC’s second-leading scorer to 12 points on 4-of-14 shooting. Missouri (12-2, 0-1) shot 39 percent — down from its season average of 48.8 percent.
“I’m very proud of my team,” Fox said. “We beat a very good team, and it’s a terrific win for us to start SEC play.”
In the process, Georgia snapped Missouri’s 26-game home winning streak, the longest in the nation.
“They were way more aggressive than we were,” Missouri coach Frank Haith said. “Forty points in the paint, 15 offensive rebounds. They played inspired.
“It’s hard to say when a team really comes in and whips you. They came in and kicked our tails.”
“This one will definitely sting,” Missouri guard Jabari Brown said. “Especially losing at home. But we’ve got to have a short memory and bounce back. We can’t let one loss turn into two.”
Georgia led by as many as 10 points in the first half, but Missouri tied the game at 34 less than five minutes into the second half.
Georgia received a big boost from forward Nemanja Djurisic off the bench. Djurisic, who entered the game shooting more than 50 percent from 3-point range, hit 4 of 5 and finished with 16 points.
Fox told Djurisic that he had to play “two halves” against Missouri, and Djurisic complied.
“He really did,” Fox said. “He played terrific in the first half. Got a little upset, as he can do, in the second half. He recomposed himself and then made a huge play in overtime.”
With 1:40 left in overtime, Djurisic tied the game with a 3-pointer from the top of the arc.
Brown led Missouri with 19 points, but he missed two 3-point attempts with under a minute to go in overtime.
Missouri’s home win streak didn’t daunt the Bulldogs from the get-go.
Georgia punched the Tigers in the mouth early — and again late — to take a 30-25 lead at halftime. The start impressed Fox even more, considering he didn’t re-join his team until Sunday after missing time for his father’s funeral.
“We had a good, I think, good business-like approach,” Fox said. “It got us off to a really good start.”
The Bulldogs scored the first eight points of the game, forcing Haith to call his first timeout with 17:23 remaining to settle his team. At that point, Missouri had taken only two shots and turned the ball over once, but Georgia made four of its first five field-goal attempts.
After Missouri’s timeout, the Tigers went on a 17-9 run to tie the game. A 3-point field goal by small forward Earnest Ross gave Missouri its first lead with 5:55 remaining in the half.
Again, the Bulldogs answered. Djurisic connected on back-to-back 3-point attempts and Georgia went on an 11-0 run to go up by 10 points with 2:08 remaining.
Djurisic led all scorers with nine points at halftime. Clarkson and Brown, Missouri’s leading scorers, combined for nine points.
While Brown got going in the second half, Clarkson never did, as the Bulldogs’ guards clamped down on his ability to drive into the lane.