Sam Houston State led 55-50 before Claxton scored the first five points of the decisive streak of 11 unanswered points to take the lead. Claxton was fouled by RJ Smith on his first layup. After missing the free throw, Georgia grabbed the rebound and fed the ball back to the 6-foot-11 Claxton, who again drove to the basket for a layup and a 55-all tie.
E’Torrion Wilridge and Hammonds added baskets to cap the 11-0 run for a 61-55 lead that helped the Bulldogs avoid the loss in first-year coach Tom Crean’s second home game.
Georgia won despite making only 4 of 22 3-pointers. The Bulldogs committed only 11 turnovers, including only four in the second half, and outscored the Bearkats 29-5 at the free-throw line.
Claxton made 7 of 11 free throws. Tyree Crump, who had nine points, made each of his six free throws.
“The game is always giving you something,” Crean said. “Tonight we weren’t making the 3s. We were in a tough fight with them but we found a way to get fouled and to get on the glass.”
Smith led Sam Houston State (2-3) with 14 points. Cameron Delaney added 13 points — all in the first half — for the Bearkats, who were coming off a 74-59 loss at No. 19 Clemson on Wednesday night.
Sam Houston State coach Jason Hooten said his players “gave it everything they had.”
“We just ran out of time tonight and fell a little short,” Hooten said. “Probably my biggest disappointment was the finish. We didn’t really finish how I wanted to. There was about a five-minute stretch there where we just didn’t execute on offense and really couldn’t make a shot.”
Tye Fagan’s 3-pointer late in the half helped Georgia lead 38-33 at the break.
Sam Houston State: Led by Smith and the Delaney twins, Josh and Cameron, the Bearkats used their quickness and quick, decisive passes to make up for their size disadvantage. Ultimately, poor shooting was too much to overcome as the visitors shot only 38 percent (25 of 66) from the field. Kai Mitchell had a game-high 11 rebounds.
Georgia: The Bulldogs struggled in their half-court offense, unable to find points when their 3-point shot wouldn’t fall. Led by the athletic Claxton, the rebuilding team showed poise in the second-half comeback, but more fine-tuning in the half-court offense will be needed before Georgia begins its Southeastern Conference schedule.
Claxton had team-high totals of eight rebounds and three blocks. Crean was more excited about a less-traditional statistic.
“He had 18 deflections,” Crean said, adding he considers that to be a crucial statistic.
“We live by it,” Crean said. “Deflections are huge. They’re a barometer of active defense.”
Crean, the former Indiana and Marquette coach, said he has “only coached four other guys, and all played in the NBA, who ever had more than 18 deflections in a game.”
BATTLE OF THE BOARDS
The Bulldogs struggled to take advantage of their big edge in size. The Bearkats started four guards with 6-foot-7 forward Kai Mitchell. Sam Houston State, from the Southland Conference, grabbed 10 offensive rebounds in the first half, leading to eight second-chance points that helped keep the game close.
Georgia finished with a 40-36 advantage in rebounds.
Sam Houston State: The game was linked with the Cayman Islands Classic, which continues when the Bearkats face Jackson State on Monday.
Georgia: The Bulldogs will play Illinois State on Monday at Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands Classic. The tournament continues Tuesday when the Bulldogs face Akron or Clemson.
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