ATHENS — Georgia was primed for a letdown.
The Bulldogs were tired. They weren’t playing another big rival. There were plenty of empty seats at Stegeman Coliseum.
Yet, after a sluggish start, Georgia found a way to pull out its third straight Southeastern Conference win.
Marcus Thornton scored 16 points and came up with a huge steal late in the game, J.J. Frazier made a couple of big 3s, and Charles Mann rebounded from a scoreless first half to lead the Bulldogs past Mississippi 69-64 on Tuesday night.
Georgia (12-5, 3-2) trailed 31-25 at halftime and couldn’t hit much of anything with Ole Miss packing the inside with a zone defense. But the Bulldogs found their shooting touch after the break and sealed the victory at the foul line in the final minute.
“I thought the arena was flat and the team was flat,” coach Mark Fox said. “But I told them before the game, `You have to be able to play on days you don’t feel good.”
The Bulldogs were coming off an emotional win over Florida, snapping the Gators’ 24-game SEC winning streak before a raucous sellout crowd. The announced crowd for this one was 6,079, more than 4,000 short of capacity.
“Not every night do you get to play the rival Florida Gators before a packed house and all that,” Fox said. “You’ve got to show up every day, grind it out and find ways to win.”
With Georgia clinging to a 62-60 lead, the Rebels (11-7, 2-3) had the ball with a chance to tie or grab the lead. But Thornton stole it from Stefan Moody and made one of two free throws with 54.5 seconds left. Then, Mann drew a charging foul on Jarvis Summers and the Bulldogs made their final six free throws to ice the victory.
“The frustration is we weren’t able to get a shot,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “We turn it over and it led to a run-out. From that point forward, I don’t think we ever recovered.”
Moody led the Rebels with 26 points, but none of his teammates reached double figures.
Ole Miss was coming off a big win at then-No. 19 Arkansas last weekend, routing the Razorbacks 96-82 with five players scoring in double figures. The Rebels didn’t come close to matching that offensive showing against Georgia, hitting only 1 of 10 from 3-point range in the second half to finish 4 of 18.
Georgia struggled from the outside, as well, also making just 4 of 18 beyond the arc. But Frazier hit two crucial 3s just over a minute apart and finished with 11 points.
After sitting much of the first half with two fouls, Mann came back to score all 12 of his points after the break. Nemanja Djurisic chipped in with 11 as the Bulldogs picked up their third win in six days.
“We were just emotionally and physically tired,” Frazier said. “But we kept pushing. This is a great win.”
Georgia shot brilliantly against Florida, connecting on 56 percent from the field and 8 of 15 from 3-point range. The Rebels shut down the Bulldogs in the opening half, holding them without a field goal for nearly 9 minutes.
Ole Miss pushed their lead as high as eight points before going to the locker room up by six.