ATHENS — Freshman guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Georgia's leading scorer entering the holidays, scored 17 points Friday night in leading the Bulldogs to a 64-50 win over Furman at Stegeman Coliseum.
So what is coach Mark Fox's impression of his new star?
"He has really played poorly," Fox deadpanned.
"No, I am only kidding. He is off to a great start. He is leading the team in scoring, and he has been an outstanding defender.
"He is unbelievably coachable," continued Fox. "He was coached well in high school, but he has been like a sponge. He has trusted the coaching staff, and that is one of the reasons he is off to such a good start."
The 6-foot-5 Caldwell-Pope, who has scored in double figures 11 times in 12 games, has made a similar impression on his teammates.
"He is playing good basketball," said senior guard Gerald Robinson. "I hope it continues into conference play."
"He is not just coachable with the coaches," said senior Dustin Ware. "Gerald and I talked to him a lot over the summer and since, and he soaked it up like a sponge."
Caldwell-Pope scored 11 straight points for Georgia (7-5) over an 8-minute stretch in the second half.
"He is good at finding ways to score," said Ware.
The soft-spoken Caldwell-Pope admitted that learning the Georgia offense has been a challenge.
"I think I am progressing well," he said. "The biggest thing is the offense. There are so many plays. I am starting to feel comfortable and relax."
Robinson scored 13 for the Bulldogs. Ware came off the bench to score all 11 of his points in the first half, and Donte Williams added 10 for Georgia.
Brandon Sebirumbi led the Paladins (6-6) with 10 points.
Fox was pleased with the whole team, not just Caldwell-Pope.
"We had 15 assists on 21 baskets," he said. "We executed well and shared the ball. We played unselfishly.
"Our defense was very good in the first half, and in the second half it led to a lot of easy baskets."
Furman coach Jeff Jackson said, "Georgia has that SEC (Southeastern Conference) physicality and SEC athleticism that is more difficult for us to grapple with."
Furman never led, but Richard Brown's basket with 13:14 to play in the first half tied the score 9-9. Georgia scored nine straight points, capped by a Williams stuff to take an 18-9 lead with 9:57 until halftime. Williams dunked on Furman three times while scoring eight points in the first half.
The Bulldogs' biggest lead of the half came when a back-door, alley-oop layup by Caldwell-Pope made it 32-17 with 4:18 to play. That was the last field goal of the half for the Bulldogs, who led 34-23 at intermission.
After Robinson made Georgia's first basket of the second half, Caldwell-Pope took over the Bulldogs' scoring for the next 8 minutes. He scored on a breakaway layup, a 3-pointer from the corner and a back-door layup to put Georgia ahead 43-27 with 14:35 to play.
Three straight 3-pointers by Furman cut the margin to 43-36 with 12:18 remaining. But Caldwell-Pope answered with two straight breakaways. On the first, he blocked a shot and took it coast to coast. On the second, he took a lead pass and threw down an authoritative dunk.
"Furman made a couple of baskets," said Fox. "Give them credit. I was going to let our team play through that situation. Kentavious showed some signs of maturity. He made a couple of plays on defense that got us a double-figure lead. That was a nice play by him."
After Furman's Charlie Reddick nailed a 3-pointer to pull the Paladins to within 52-41, Georgia went on a free-throw-fueled 12-4 run to go up 64-45 with 3:43 to go.
Georgia hit 16 of 17 free throws, and Furman made 10 of 11. Each team missed its final free-throw attempt.