On This Date in Sports March 14, 2019: Georgia Tornado

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

With Mississippi State and Alabama battling in overtime in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, things come to an abrupt halt as a Tornado strikes nearby causing damage to a side panel on the roof of the Georgia Dome. The game would be completed after an hour delay with Mississippi State winning 69-67, as the remainder of the tournament being played at the Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the campus of Georgia Tech.

The 2008 SEC Tournament in Men’s Basketball was held at the Georgia Dome in Downtown Atlanta from March 13-16, with the winner getting the conference’s automatic bid. Tennessee coached by Bruce Pearl entered the tournament as the top seed after a 12-4 season, while Mississippi State led by Rick Stansbury won the SEC West. Kentucky led by Bill Gillespie was the second place team in the East, while Arkansas and John Pelphrey were second in the West. All four of the teams earned a bye into the Quarterfinals on Friday.

The Tournament began on Thursday Night, with South Carolina beating LSU 77-75, ending a nightmarish season for the Tigers with the Gamecocks moving on to play Tennessee. Vanderbilt later beat Auburn 93-82 to earn the right to face Arkansas. Later it was Alabama beating Florida 80-60, ending the tournament hopes for the Gators led by Billy Donovan. Florida entered the year with back-to-back National Championships. In the nightcap Georgia after a 4-12 record under Dennis Felton stunning Ole Miss 97-95 in overtime.

With a cold front moving in overnight, severe storms were expected in the Atlanta area, but none could have seemed what was coming. Things went as expected in the early games, with Tennessee edging South Carolina 89-87 while Arkansas beat Vanderbilt 89-75. The second half of the bracket would see nature pose a big obstacle as Alabama and Mississippi State battled into overtime. The cold front helped breathe a series of tornadoes strike the region in and around Atlanta. With the Bulldogs leading by one, with 2:11 left in overtime, play came to a sudden halt as the building began to shake. What sounded like a freight train was, in fact, an F2 tornado with winds over 111 mph. The tornado caused the lights above the court to swing as panel near the roof was blown down. Players rushed off the court to take cover, while fans were ordered to stay in place, as the dome was a safe sport in relative terms. After an hour the game resumed with Mississippi State winning 69-67.

While they were able to complete three of four quarterfinal games, the finale between Kentucky and Georgia was postponed out of caution. With the dome reeling from storms, officials hastily looked to move the rest tournament. Fortunately, the Alexander Memorial Coliseum at Georgia Tech’s campus was available. However, with the smaller size, it was impossible accommodating all the fans in the smaller arena. This led the SEC to limit the game to friends and family of the players and those with credentials to see the games in person. The winner of the final quarterfinal would also have to come back that same day and play in the semifinals. Playing on the campus of their in-state rival may have given Georgia an extra boost as the stunned Kentucky 60-54 in overtime thanks to a turnaround three by Zac Swansey. It was the first time ever that UGA beat Kentucky in a tournament game.

Georgia would return to the floor a few short hours later and were no worse the worry as they stunned Mississippi State 64-60 to reach the SEC Tournament Final. Georgia would go on to play Arkansas in the title game, as the Razorbacks upended Tennessee 92-91. It marked the first time in 56 years that a team won two tournament games on the same day.

After a 13-16 record in the regular season, Georgia needed to win the SEC Final to get into the NCAA Tournament. However, to do so they would need to beat Arkansas and win their third game in less than 30 hours. Perhaps it was some leftover adrenaline, but Georgia controlled the game from the tip, building a 36-26 lead at the half. With Terrance Woodbury scoring a team-high 16 points the Bulldogs would complete their shocking run and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament with a 66-57 win. Woodbury would share Tournament MVP honors with Sundiata Gaines.

Georgia had won just four games in the regular season in the SEC, had now equaled that in four days in Atlanta. There would be no rest for the weary as Georgia was a #14 seed, while Tennessee, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Kentucky all were at large teams in the NCAA Tournament. The Bulldogs were unable to carry the magic over from the SEC Tournament, losing in the first round to #3 Xavier 73-61.

The incredible run likely saved Coach Dennis Felton’s job as he was rumored to be heading on the door when the SEC Tournament began. However, it was a one-year stay only, as Felton was dismissed during the 2009 season after Georgia lost their first five conference games and sat at 9-11.