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Men's hoops: It takes two for one shot at SEC

Albert Jackson celebrates with the Bulldogs mascot after Georgia won its second game of the day.

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Albert Jackson celebrates with the Bulldogs mascot after Georgia won its second game of the day.

ATLANTA — When Dennis Felton heard that the postponement of the last SEC tournament quarterfinal Friday night meant the only way Georgia could make it to the championship game was to win twice in one day, he was very unhappy.

Turns out, it wasn't a problem for his Bulldogs.

On Saturday afternoon, Georgia upset No. 2 East seed Kentucky 60-56 in overtime. Then it returned to Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the Georgia Tech campus Saturday night to defeat No. 1 West seed Mississippi State 64-60, becoming the first sixth seed to advance to the tournament title game.

The Bulldogs, 16-16 and winners of only four SEC games during the regular season, meet Arkansas (22-10), a 92-91 winner over Tennessee, at 3:30 p.m. today (ESPN2), a switch from the original starting time of 1 p.m.

It is Georgia's first title appearance in 11 years. Two of its tournament games, including Thursday's win over Mississippi, have gone to overtime.

"I'm just busting at the seams with pride right now in our players and in our team,'' Felton said. "And of course it makes it more special when we're able to do it under extreme circumstances like this."

With star guard Sundiata Gaines on the bench after fouling out and his Bulldogs trailing 58-57 with 2:43 left, guard Billy Humphrey scored six straight to ensure the victory.

"It was definitely not really a typical SEC tournament game," said Zac Swansey, the freshman guard who hit a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds remaining to help Georgia defeat Kentucky. "But we didn't really let that affect us. We came in with the mind-set that it was us against everybody else."

It was a fitting ending to a strange 26 hours for the SEC.

A tornado went through downtown Atlanta at about 9:40 Friday night, causing an estimated $200-million in damage, including tearing part of the roof off the Georgia Dome and forcing SEC officials to relocate the final four games to Tech's arena 10 minutes north. Its capacity of 9,000 limited attendance to media, school personnel and family and friends of players and coaches.

When Georgia took the court at noon, 1,458 people were in the stands, about 100 Bulldogs fans. Thousands — the dome's basketball capacity is 26,000 — missed out on three games decided by four points or fewer.

Nina Nixon was one of them. She stood outside her hotel about three blocks from Centennial Park on Saturday morning with a cell phone in one hand and her insurance agent's number in the other.

After spending a week visiting friends in Tampa and St. Petersburg, Nixon and her husband, Lynn, made their annual stop at the tournament. But for the Nixons and thousands of others, it was no weekend retreat.

In the area that houses Centennial Park, the CNN headquarters and the Georgia Dome, streets were filled with glass and debris Saturday morning. Large chunks of the Georgia Dome and other buildings were being removed by demolition crews.

Adolph Hill, an Atlanta street vendor for nearly 20 years, was two blocks from the CNN center selling SEC T-shirts and souvenirs Friday night when he heard what sounded "like a locomotive coming straight through town."

"I ran across the street and squatted down behind a rail, and three ladies ran with me and they were all screaming," Hill said Saturday, as he demonstrated in the spot where he fled. "The wind was blowing, big trees were flying. I thought it was the end of the world."

High-rises with blown-out glass dotted the downtown area as well as damaged cars. SEC fans packed up in droves Saturday afternoon, including Nixon, who was trying to get the back window of her Mercury Montego repaired so she could head home to Hillsboro, Ind.

Men's hoops: It takes two for one shot at SEC 03/15/08 [Last modified: Sunday, March 16, 2008 1:30am]
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