Georgia coach Mark Fox has never been that much a believer that there's ever such a thing as a "signature win" in college basketball.
Then again, after Saturday night's thrilling 70-67 win over Big Ten member Illinois at the Gwinnett Center, he was willing to make an exception.
"This was a terrific win for our team and our program." said Fox. "We beat a team that I have a lot of respect for. Bruce (Weber) does a great job with his team and when you beat a good team, it makes you feel good and we beat a very good team and we had to play extremely well to do that. It was a great game and I'm really proud for our kids because they have worked hard the past 10 days."
With the win, the Bulldogs improve their record to 5-4, earning the program's first win over Illinois in five previous tries. The Illini (8-3) thumped Georgia 76-42 last year in Chicago.
The Gwinnett Center was more to the Bulldogs' liking.
Georgia improved to 3-0 all-time in the Duluth facility, but none of the three were more exciting that Saturday's three-point victory.
This one went right down to the wire.
Moments after Illinois' Demetri McCamey tied converted a three-point play to go up 67-66, Georgia worked the ball inside to Trey Thompkins, who was fouled by 7-1 center Mike Tisdale, sending the Bulldog sophomore to the free throw line.
Tisdale fouled out on the play, but even more important for the Bulldogs was that it gave Thompkins the chance to put Georgia up by one at 68-67 with 22.2 seconds left.
The Bulldogs would not trail again.
After Illinois missed a shot to regain the lead, Thompkins grabbed the rebound after being fouled sank two more free throws with 6.6 seconds left to account for what turned out to be the final score.
A last-ditch 3-point attempt from McCamey from 25-feet away bounced off the rim, securing the biggest victory in Fox's short tenure as the Bulldogs' head coach.
Thompkins led the Bulldogs with 21 points, including 7-of-10 from the free-throw line. Sophomore Travis Leslie chipped in with 17 followed by Ricky McPhee with 12.
McCamey topped the Illinois with 21.
Albert Jackson led the Bulldogs in rebound with eight.
"We rebounded the ball very well tonight," Fox said. "We put a lot of time in that the last ten days. Rebounding drills are not fun but I think they certainly helped us do a better job tonight."
The Bulldogs got off to a quick start, jumping out to a 16-11 lead on a layup by DeMario Mayfield, only to see Illinois go on a 9-3 run to go up 20-19 with 10:25 in the first half.
Illinois and Georgia went into their respective lockerroom with the game tied at 32.
Georgia came out on fire to start the second half.
The Bulldogs scored eight of the first 10 points to go up 40-34, a lead that stood until Illinois tied the game at 49 with 10:03 to play.
A layup by Leslie put Georgia back in front, as the Bulldogs pushed their margin to 65-55 with 4:55 to go.
But that was still enough time for the Illini to mount one more final charge.
Illinois stormed back, eventually taking a one-point lead on McCamey's three-point play before Thompkins was fouled and responded with his two free throws Georgia's next trip down the court.
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