Georgia takes on tough Seton Hall team with opportunity for history, another game together

On3 imageby:Palmer Thombs04/02/24

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ATHENS, Ga. — Georgia’s invite to the NIT presented an opportunity for the 2023-24 team to keep its season alive. For three graduate transfers, that meant an extension of their college careers. For others, it meant another day with the guys they’ve spent almost every day alongside the last 10 months.

Come Tuesday night in Indianapolis, the Bulldogs will have another opportunity afforded to them. Playing Seton Hall in the semifinals of a tournament that dates back further than The Big Dance, Georgia is on the doorstep of the program’s first-ever appearance in an NIT Championship Game.

“It was great to make the NIT, it was great to win the first one. It’s like every tournament process. It’s great to get here, it’s great to be in the NIT Final Four in Hinkle (Fieldhouse) and play against a team the caliber of Seton Hall. It will continue to give these guys lifelong memories and continue to enhance our brand as a men’s basketball program at Georgia and give our guys a chance to compete for a championship,” Georgia head coach Mike White said on Tuesday during a press conference to preview the semifinal matchup with Seton Hall.

“Our guys, we’ve done a really good job of staying in the moment. Our focus today is having a great practice. I know you guys are sick of hearing me say that all year. Not that you shouldn’t be, I’m sick of hearing myself say it. But that’s what it is,” White continued. “It’s having a great practice today, having a great film session tonight, having a great first four-minute segment against Seton Hall tomorrow. Try to get some A shots against a stingy defense, hopefully converting and sprinting back on defense trying to get some shots and slow these guys down. Hopefully, we’re in a position mid-second half to be within striking distance to capitalize, to finish, and worry about postgame when we get there.”

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That’s an approach that’s worked over the years for White, and so far so good in this tournament for Georgia. The Bulldogs beat Xavier in their NIT opener at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens before going on the road to take down Wake Forest and Ohio State in a span of just more than 48 hours. UGA was an underdog to both the Demon Deacons and Buckeyes, and that’s the case again on Tuesday taking on the Pirates. A team many believed should’ve been in the NCAA Tournament, Seton Hall, like Georgia, has made the most of the chance to play postseason basketball.

“They remind me of a couple of teams in our league that really sit down with discipline and physicality on the defensive end,” White said of Shaheen Holloway’s squad. “Their positioning is high-high level … Tough, physical, sound, committed to the defensive end and they really protect the paint at a high level. They have a high percentage of steals, a really high level of blocked shots and altered shots. They force you to make jumps shots. Mixing defenses, their zone is more effective. They’ve got good guard play, they’ve got good length. They’re very, very good.”

Seton Hall is led on the offensive end by senior guard Kadary Richmond. Averaging a team-high 15.6 points and 5.1 assists per game to go along with 6.7 rebounds – good for second among all Pirates – Richmond earned First-Team All-Big East honors. NBA scouts have been in the building all season long to see the potential NBA Draft pick, and while White doesn’t want to get into breaking down his game like a professional scout, he feels confident Richmond is among the Seton Hall players that’ll be around for a while.

“They’ve got a few guys who are going to play basketball for a long time, I’ll say that. He’s very, very talented and has a tempo, a pace to his game. He’s got a little burst that’s deceptive, great hands, and a really good feel,” White said. “There’s a few guys in our league who have that ability, I should say a couple to a few, but not many that can bring it up versus pressure but can also post up guys their own size. He’s a really versatile guy who compliments the people around him. They’re very hard to score on, but they’re equally as difficult to defend.”

Win or lose on Tuesday, White is proud of his team. He loves the way they’ve come together through the ups and downs of this season to play their best basketball at the end. To him, it’s a result of their desperation to keep the ball bouncing for the 2023-24 team. Whether it’s the upperclassmen trying to extend their careers as far as they can or the freshmen not wanting their first year to end, White’s Bulldogs are playing for one another. Using his words, the approach has been simple: ‘Let’s keep playing.’

“It’s been awesome. For the past month, this team has played and been super, super competitive. There’s not a lot of teams in the country that, regardless of the circumstances, could do what we’ve done,” White said. “… It speaks to the character of our guys, and also the basketball character, their relationships with one another, they want to continue to play with one another, they want to continue to fight for one another. And we’re playing loose. We’re having fun. But they also want to continue to prolong the season.”

“They like playing at Georgia, like repping the G and like building, but also, going back to this current team, they want to see where this thing can finish,” he continued. “We’re honored to play Seton Hall who had a really strong argument to play in that other tournament. These other teams did as well. We won at Wake. It’s hard, hard, hard to win at Wake Forest. We won at Ohio State. Really, really hard to win there. The numbers speak for themselves. So this team’s had a heck of a month. Let’s keep playing.”

Tip time on Tuesday is set for 9:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. If Georgia wins, entering as an underdog of 4.5 points per ESPN Bets, the Bulldogs would play again on Thursday (7:00 p.m. ET, ESPN) against the winner of Indiana State-Utah.

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