Several players have a chance to fill the role, and Fox credits Caldwell-Pope with working harder to improve his efficiency on offense.
“The game slows down for him a little bit, and he can pick and choose his spots, which allows other guys to get some good looks,” Fox said. “So him being a little more selective has allowed those other guys to take advantage of their shots. That’s going to be critical for our development.”
Caldwell-Pope scored 17 points and Charles Mann added 10 to help Georgia snap a three-game losing streak with a 58-49 victory over Mercer on Tuesday.
The game began at 11:30 a.m. to accommodate approximately 4,000 students from nearby elementary schools.
“They were pretty excited,” freshman guard Kenny Gaines said. “Yeah, I can definitely say that was the biggest audience we’ve had, and it was the most hyped also.”
Georgia (3-7) took a 10-point lead, its biggest of the game, on Mann’s putback dunk with 3:24 remaining.
Mann, a freshman guard, and Cannon, a sophomore center, started their first games and Brandon Morris his second. Perhaps Mann can show some offensive consistency to help Caldwell-Pope shoulder the load, but new starter John Cannon went 0-for-3 from the field and had just one rebound in 13 minutes.
Morris finished with two points on a pair of free throws. A third starter, Donte’ Williams went scoreless, too.
Caldwell-Pope, at 17.4 points, is the only Bulldog averaging in double figures. He also leads the team in rebounding and steals.
“I mean we have scorers on the team,” Mann said. “We’re just trying to help him out and do the best we can do to help the team win.”
Nobody scored in double figures for Mercer (6-6). The Bears, who had won two straight and three of four, were led by Anthony White Jr.’s nine points and Daniel Coursey’s eight.
“(Georgia) played really good defense (Tuesday), and we couldn’t get a shot,” Mercer coach Bob Hoffman said. “We missed a lot of shots in the lane that we normally make, but you have to give credit to them for that.”
Langston Hall’s runner with 4:32 remaining cut Georgia’s lead to four, but Mercer never got any closer.
Neither team shot the ball well.
The Bears, who entered the game ranked 270th in Division I field-goal percentage, shot just 31.4 percent. Their 49 points were 9.3 under their average. Mercer was just 1-of-11 on 3-point attempts in the first half.
“We were getting good outside looks, good inside looks and getting open shots and we just couldn’t hit anything,” Hall said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen us struggle that much on offense. It’s one if you’re not getting open looks, but we were getting the looks we wanted and just couldn’t knock them down.”
Georgia, which ranked 297th in field-goal percentage at tipoff, shot only 43.2 percent. But the Bulldogs outrebounded the Bears by 10 and outscored them 15-2 in points off turnovers.
Mercer only committed 11 miscues, but they were costly.
“It seemed like a lot of them led to energy plays and momentum plays that kind of got them juiced,” Hoffman said. “When we made runs at them, they seemed like they always got a momentum play.”
Mercer began the season as the favorite to win the Atlantic Sun Conference after winning 27 games last year. The Bears, who won at Florida State on Dec. 2, visit Alabama on Saturday.
Georgia hosts Southern Cal on Saturday.
Fox said the Bulldogs had “to be sound for 40 minutes” to beat Mercer because the Bears weren’t making many mistakes.
“That’s a very good team,” he said, “but under the circumstances, we feel good about this win because our team needed one.”