Caldwell-Pope then reached a conclusion no one would have dared one month ago: “We’re a good team.”
Georgia overcame Caldwell-Pope’s off game and beat cold-shooting Texas A&M 52-46 on Saturday, giving the Bulldogs five straight Southeastern Conference wins for the first time in 12 years.
Caldwell-Pope, second in the SEC with his average of 17.8 points per game, had only 10 points — all on free throws. He preserved his streak of scoring in double figures in every game this season when he sank two free throws with 17 seconds remaining to help hold off the Aggies’ late comeback.
“Every player on the team is contributing,” said Caldwell-Pope, a sophomore. “I believe in my team and my teammates believe in themselves. I had a bad night. I wasn’t feeling real good. I was just trying to get the ball to whoever was scoring the most.”
Nemanja Djurisic led Georgia (12-11, 6-4) with 13 points. The Bulldogs have won five straight SEC games for the first time since winning six straight in 2001.
Before the streak, Georgia was only 1-4 in the league. The Bulldogs’ slow start to the season included deflating nonconference losses to Youngstown State, Southern Miss and South Florida.
Georgia is two games over .500 in the SEC for the first time since a 9-7 league record in the 2010-11 season. That team won 21 games overall and made the NCAA tournament.
Fabyon Harris led Texas A&M (14-9, 4-6) with 17 points. Elston Turner had 13 points despite going only 2-of14 from the field.
Texas A&M was only 4-of-22 (18.2 percent) in the half and trailed 25-16 at halftime. The Aggies shot only 24 percent from the field (12-of-50) for the game, easily their lowest mark of the season.
“We have to make shots,” said coach Billy Kennedy. “We have to put the ball in the goal. We had opportunities to score and we didn’t do it, and Georgia’s defense had a lot to do with that.
“When you shoot 24 percent from the floor for the game, you’re not going to win many games.”
The Aggies, who lost 59-52 at home to Georgia on Jan. 26, were swept in the season series.
Georgia also made only 12 shots from the field, a season low.
Georgia coach Mark Fox called the game “a slugfest, really a physical game, a hard-fought game, both teams really defending.”
Georgia won the game at the free-throw line. Led by Caldwell-Pope’s perfect 10-for-10 shooting, the Bulldogs made 25 of 32 free throws. The Aggies made 19 of 26 attempts.
“They got to the free-throw line too much,” Kennedy said. “We got to the line also. The difference in the game came at the line because neither team could really shoot the ball.”
The strong defense led to 47 fouls, including a technical foul on Caldwell-Pope with 20 seconds remaining. Harris and Turner each made two free throws on the possession to cut Georgia’s lead to 50-46 before Caldwell-Pope’s final free throws.
Caldwell-Pope, who had a least a share of Georgia’s scoring lead in 20 of 22 games before Saturday, missed his only three shots from the field as the Bulldogs struggled against Texas A&M’s tight defense. The Aggies rank third in the SEC, allowing 59.8 points per game.
“We had a lot of respect for Texas A&M’s defense coming into the game,” Fox said. “They guarded us very well, and I thought our defense was pretty solid from start to finish. Our kids were hungry and made enough plays to win it.”
A 3-pointer by Djurisic early in the second half — the first 3 of the game for either team — gave Georgia a 28-18 lead. Caldwell-Pope made two free throws to stretch the lead to 12 points.
Harris sank three 3-pointers in a 14-5 run for Texas A&M to cut the lead to 35-32. Georgia recovered with eight unanswered points, including 3-pointers by Vincent Williams and Sherrard Brantley, for a 43-32 lead.
The Aggies, coming off a 70-68 win over No. 21 Missouri, were 0-for-7 from the field against Georgia before Turner’s baseline jumper with 12:10 remaining in the first half.
Georgia’s Donte Williams fouled out with 4:35 remaining, less than a minute after the Aggies’ Harris left the game with four fouls.
Kourtney Roberson had 12 rebounds for A&M.