ST. LOUIS -- Yante Maten was a lightly used freshman the last time Georgia reached the NCAA Tournament during the 2014-15 season.
The senior knows the odds are against the Bulldogs of returning to the tournament this season, but he wasn't about to let them go down without at least one last push at the Southeastern Conference Tournament.
Maten scored 25 points to lead 12th-seeded Georgia (17-14) to a 78-62 win over Vanderbilt in the opening round of the tournament on Wednesday night. The 6-foot-8 forward did so on 9-of-12 shooting, showing why he was named the Associated Press SEC player of the year -- and helping to set up a second-round matchup with No. 5 seed Missouri on Thursday in the process.
"He was the AP player of the year in our league for a reason, because he's really good down on the block and on the outside," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "He pretty much scored any way you can score the basketball."
Maten has scored in double figures in all but one game this season for Georgia, which led throughout against the Commodores (12-20). The SEC's leading scorer started his latest scoring outburst with a pair of 3-pointers in the opening minutes, and he also added a pair of blocks in 29 minutes of action.
It was a far cry from his 8-of-18 shooting performance in an 81-66 loss to Vanderbilt on Feb. 7.
Teshaun Hightower added a career-high 13 points off the bench for the Bulldogs, and Rayshaun Hammonds had 10 in the win. It was Maten, however, who set the tone from the outset and helped Georgia open the game on a 10-0 run.
"At the end of the day, I only go as far as my team goes," Maten said. "So, we're a collective unit. We're just trying to play our best basketball, and I was trying to make my reads, and so was my team. We came out with the win because of it."
UP NEXT: Georgia faces No. 5 seed Missouri tomorrow on SEC Network in the second round. Tipoff is scheduled for approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 3 between No. 9 seed Alabama and No. 8 seed Texas A&M.