When a team is battling inconsistency due to inexperience and youth like Mark Fox's Georgia basketball team, distractions are the last thing you need.
But that was exactly the case when the Bulldogs traveled to Florida, minus junior Donte Williams and freshman Kenny Gaines for what Fox termed a violation of team rules.
The 11th-ranked Gators rolled to a 77-44 win, so while the pair's absence quite likely would not have made a difference in the outcome, it did disrupt the focus, something Fox hopes his Bulldogs can regain for Saturday's home contest against Mississippi State (1:45 p.m, SEC Network).
"We didn't play well on either end and we obviously had a major distraction before we left. This group didn't handle it well at all, then tried to handle a great opponent on their court," Fox said Thursday. "It was a perfect storm in that way and we didn't play well at all. We needed to come home and regroup and that's what we're trying to do."
The Bulldogs will have Williams and Gaines back at their disposal when they host MSU (6-7, 1-0).
"Donte and Kenny didn't do anything malicious, but they behaved in a way that was unacceptable, so I suspended them for a game," Fox said. "They'll be back for Saturday."
Fox did not elaborate on exactly what the pair did that kept them from traveling to Gainesville, other than the offense "was not malicious at all."
"It was very disappointing to have to do that, but right is right and we're trying to make men out of young men," Fox said. "It was distracting, but it's behind us and we're going to move forward."
Fox hopes Williams' game picks up upon his return.
After averaging 7.8 points and 5.1 rebounds last year, those numbers are down to 5.7 and 4.8 in 11 games so far this season.
"I think Donte's troubles are largely due to that now people know he's a great offensive rebounder and they're paying attention to him. He's not getting the offensive put-back and dunk that he got a year ago," Fox said. "I think people have seen that on tape and trying to take that away from him. He's got to be able to overcome that and find another way to get it done but I don't think either (Williams and Nemanja Djurisic) have been consistently productive as we've wanted them to, although I think both have showed signs of life in the last few weeks."
The Bulldogs (6-8,0-1) hope visiting Mississippi State provides the perfect elixir for everyone's ills.
Georgia won both games between these two schools last season, first defeating the then ranked 20th Bulldogs in Starkville on Feb. 11 by a 70-68 score in overtime, followed by a first-round rematch in the SEC Tournament, 71-61.
"We weren't ready to play, not at all and Florida laid it on us," freshman guard Charles Mann said of the loss to Florida. "We didn't play good at all, but we've pretty much let it go and been trying to get ready for this next one."
Will they be?
"Win or lose, you never take the last game to the next game, so are we mature enough to be able to do that? I'm not sure," Fox said. "We won't know that until we play."
NOTES: If the Bulldogs are looking for any additional inspiration, perhaps they'll look to the 1983 Final Four Team, which will be honored Saturday as part of their 30-year reunion. That squad earned a berth into the tournament by capturing the school's first ever SEC Tournament title. Hugh Durham, coach of that 1983 team and 16 other Bulldog squads, will be among the honorees and will also address the lettermen at a pre-game reception. ... Junior forward Marcus Thornton (knee) said there's no timetable for his return. "I just try to remain positive and the most positive thing I can do is try to help these guys get better," he said. "Eventually, I think that will come to fruition, so as long as I can do that, that will be a positive."