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Georgia Escapes Xavier in First Round of NIT, 78-76

Ryan Cullinane

Sports Communications Graduate Assistant

University of Georgia Athletic Association

The No. 4 seed Georgia men’s basketball team edged past Xavier, 78-76, in the first round of the National Invitational Tournament on Tuesday evening inside Stegeman Coliseum. 


The Bulldogs (18-16, 6-12 SEC) were led in scoring by Silas Demary Jr. with 16 points in the team’s first postseason game since 2017. RJ Melendez had 14 points, two steals and a pair of 3-pointers off the bench, while Noah Thomasson finished with 12 points. Justin Hill reached double-figures in scoring for the 15th time this season, finishing with 10 points, all of which came in the first half. Georgia led in the game for over 36 minutes and won the battle of the paint, scoring 44 points compared to Xavier’s (16-18, 9-11 Big East) 32.


Georgia jumped out to an eight-point lead at the midway point of the first half after a pair of 3-pointers from Hill. The Bulldogs capitalized on their offensive success in the opening 20 minutes to own a 46-34 advantage, highlighted by a buzzer-beating dunk from RJ Melendez, headed into the locker room. Georgia continued to find success against Xavier, going on a 15-2 run and forcing a timeout from the Musketeers after a triple from Melendez in transition. Xavier responded locked in on defense over the next seven minutes, outscoring the Bulldogs 19-6, with 15 from Desmond Claude, and getting Georgia’s lead down to seven points. A jumper from Lazar Djokovic brought it to a two-point game with 1:35 remaining. Leading by two points, Russel Tchewa sealed the Bulldogs win with just under two seconds left after his block at the rim, originally ruled a goaltend, was overturned. After Xavier was unable to get a shot off once it got the ball in bounds, Georgia earned the program’s first postseason win since 2016.


The Bulldogs’ Round of 16 opponent will the winner of the No. 1 seed Wake Forest and Appalachian State contest, set to tip off on Wednesday, March 20 at 8 p.m. ET in Winston-Salem. 


Five Fast Facts

• Georgia’s first half scoring output of 46 points ties it for the most points scored in the opening frame this season. The team shot 50 percent from the field, including a trio of 3-pointers.

• Silas Demary Jr. led the team in scoring for the eighth time this season with 16 points. This marks the third time in the last four games the freshman has reached double-digits in scoring.

• Russel Tchewa recorded four assists in the game, marking the sixth time this season he recorded at least three dimes. In 103 career games at South Florida, Tchewa recorded 42 assists, while in just 34 games at Georgia, he is up to 45 assists.

• This marks the program’s first victory over a Big East opponent since winning at Marquette on December 2, 2017, and just the third time since then Georgia has played a team in the league. 

• Georgia forced 15 turnovers from Xavier in the game, 10 of which were steals, and turned those extra possessions into 22 points. This marked the ninth time this season the Bulldogs racked up at least 15 turnovers, going 5-4 in those games.


Key Quote

Head Coach Mike White: “As a staff and as a team, we talk about the fact that we’ve got to learn from that. We’re always going to preach growth and learning through wins and losses, but we just got an NIT win. We just got a postseason win against a Big East opponent. It’s a good win for our program. It’s something that hopefully gives the returning players confidence moving forward. It’s another step in the right direction and obviously something we’ll use in recruiting. At the end of the day, everybody wants to be in the NCAA Tournament, but we’re honored to be a part of the NIT and honored to still be a part of it. To survive and advance.”

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