Three seconds remained in overtime and Georgia had sealed the deal. The Bulldogs would defeat No. 21 Missouri 70-64 in the SEC opener, ending the Tigers’ 26-game home floor winning streak, and the coach, Mark Fox, sat on the bench and buried his face in his hands.
Overjoyed at the Bulldogs’ stunner, no doubt. But in this moment he also thought of his father, Raymond Lewis Fox, 78, who died on Saturday in the family’s home town of Garden City, Kan.
“No question he’s why I got into coaching,” Mark Fox said. “I was blessed to have him as a dad.”
The last few days have been frantic for Fox, whose team played Friday at George Washington. Fox returned with the team to Georgia, then flew to Garden City on Saturday but not in time to say good-bye, which Fox said, is what dad would have preferred instead of his son missing a game.
Raymond Fox spent a lifetime as teacher and coach, at the high school and community college level, in several sports. Among his duties was coaching basketball at Ellsworth High where he butted heads with Beloit, coached by Gene Keady.
“For maybe five, 10 seconds,” Fox said he considered missing the GW game to rush home and be with his father, whose condition from a lung disease, had taken a turn for the worse.
“In coaching and education, the most important thing is your student, your player,” Fox said of a lesson his dad taught him.
Dad would have been thrilled with Wednesday’s outcome. In the postgame meeting with reporters, Fox harkened back to his days growing up in Kansas and following the Big Eight. He attended Garden City Community College, got a graduate degree from Kansas and served as assistant to Tom Asbury at Kansas State in the 1990s before moving to Nevada.
Wednesday, he felt the pull of the Heartland and recalled connecting with former Kansas State coaching great Jack Hartman late in his life.
“As a child, it was all about Big Eight basketball,” Fox said. “To win at an old Big Eight schoolit’s really special to me.”
Georgia won by out-toughing Missouri, a first for a Tigers team that had battled back from deficits to conquer UCLA and North Carolina State. The Bulldogs’ physical play and determination showed up in rebounding, holding a 43-34 edge (15-7 on the offensive glass) and a 40-26 edge on points in the paint.
Mizzou guard Jordan Clarkson, who had made a case as the top SEC player in non-conference competition, was held to 12 points and two assists in 44 minutes and was never much of a factor.
Perhaps outside of the Georgia locker room and perhaps Garden City, there was little indication this was coming.
Georgia had fallen by 18 on Friday, stood 6-6, didn’t own a signature victory and lugged a league-worst RPI into the contest.
But the Bulldogs opened an 8-0 lead and were up five at the break. Mizzou led by five with 11 minutes remaining but Georgia’s defense kept the Tigers close.
Clarkson tied it with a three-pointer with 52 seconds in regulation to force overtime, and Missouri appeared to have escaped when it opened a five-point bulge in overtime. But Georgia charged with eight straight and the small contingent of fans behind the Bulldogs bench, including Fox’s wife and former K-State administrator Cindy, cheered. The family traveled from the service Tuesday, arriving in Columbia at 4 a.m.
Fox never played for his dad, who got out of coaching when his sons went off to different schools. He wanted to watch his kids play.
The last time father and son talked was Christmas. They exchanged greetings. Then Raymond got to the point.
“He told me we needed to play some damn defense,” Fox said. “He was right.”
How would Raymond have responded to Wednesday’s outcome? Deep down, he’d have been proud, but that’s probably not what he would have expressed, Mark said.
“He’d have said, ‘Get the next one,’ ” Fox said.