By GEORGE HENRY
ATHENS, Ga. — After watching Kentavious Caldwell-Pope light up his team’s zone defense in the first half, Mississippi State coach Rick Ray decided to make a defensive switch.
Ray used a man-to-man defense with Jalen Steele, who was assigned the task of guarding Caldwell-Pope in the second half and switching off on screens.
Steele scored a career-high 21 points, Craig Sword added 14 and Mississippi State won its third straight game with a 72-61 victory over Georgia on Saturday.
Caldwell-Pope finished with 16 points for Georgia, but the fourth-leading scorer in the Southeastern Conference went 0 for 6 from the field in the second half.
And as Caldwell-Pope goes, so does Georgia. It’s no secret that he’s led the Bulldogs in scoring in all but one game this season.
Steele’s consecutive 3-pointers gave Mississippi State (7-7, 2-0 SEC) an 11-point lead, its biggest of the game until the final 10 seconds, with 5:02 remaining.
Charles Mann added 14 points for Georgia (6-9, 0-2), which was coming off a 33-point loss that was its worst Florida since 1967.
Georgia, which has dropped two straight games, got reserves Donte’ Williams and Kenny Gaines back from one-game suspensions levied by coach Mark Fox for breaking unspecified team rules.
But their return made little difference in helping the Bulldogs avoid their second straight loss. Williams scored five points in 24 minutes and went 3 for 9 from the free-throw line. Gaines had five points in 12 minutes.