But Western Carolina missed a desperation 3 at the buzzer, and Georgia held on for a come-from-behind 65-63 win on Saturday.
The score was tied 63-all when Mann went to the line with 2.5 seconds left. His body of work at the charity stripe so far in the game was a woeful 3-for-9.
He hit the first shot, prompting Georgia coach Mark Fox to call a timeout and set a strategy for Mann to miss on purpose.
“The plan was to make it go kind of left and hope we could get a tip or something,” said Mann. “It seemed like when I needed to make one, I missed them, and when I needed to miss one, I made it.”
Fox said Georgia (6-4) was fortunate to win.
“I thought their team deserved to win more than we did,” Fox said. “We did not play well. We did not shoot free throws well. And at the end, when we tried to miss a free throw, we make the son of the gun.”
Mann said he prayed for a defensive stop after the made free throw allowed the Catamounts (6-8) to advance up the floor with some semblance of order.
“We needed a stop, and that is what we did,” Mann said. “We got the stop when we needed it.”
Western Carolina’s Tom Tankelewicz managed a long 3-point attempt at the buzzer, but it was a desperation heave that was never even close.
“It’s not much consolation losing,” said Western Carolina coach Larry Hunter. “Our guys played their hearts out today. Coach Fox told me that we more than deserved to win the game, and I’d have to agree on that.”
Kenny Gaines led Georgia with 17 points. Mann added 13, and Brandon Morris 11.
The Catamounts scored the first eight points of the second half to go ahead 37-29 and led most of the way from there. Trey Sumler was 4-of-5 from the 3-point line and scored 21 points for Western Carolina.
Georgia did not lead in the second half until Nemanja Djurisic’s 3-pointer made it 61-58 with 1:25 left.
The first half was a see-saw 20 minutes with neither team able to build a lead of more than four points. The lead changed five times and the teams were tied nine times, finishing at 29-all when Gaines went coast to coast in the last 4.7 seconds for a buzzer-beating layup.
The Catamounts twice led by 10 points in the second half, the last time at 57-47 with 7:13 to play after a 3-pointer by Brandon Boggs.
But Western Carolina would score only one more field goal the rest of the game.
“We were pretty desperate,” said Gaines of Georgia’s late defensive intensity. “We knew we had to get the win, and we knew we had to do something other than offense. We tried to turn up our intensity on defense.”
Danté Williams’ breakaway dunk tied it for Georgia at 58-all, setting up Djurisic’s 3, his first field goal of the game.
After Sumler’s three-point play, Djurisic tucked the basketball under his arm like a halfback and drove for a layup to put Georgia up 63-61 with 50 seconds left.
Tankelewicz hit two free throws for Western Carolina with 20 seconds to play, setting the score at 63-63 before Mann’s clinching free throws.
Mann entered the game shooting 74 percent from the line, third best among the regulars.
“I feel confident, even though I am missing,” he said. “I kept on believing in myself. I am a good free-throw shooter.”
Fox said Mann is still rusty from a 12-day hiatus from practice because of a sore knee.
“I am not going to use that as an excuse,” Mann said, “but it has played a big role. I am still trying to find my rhythm.”
The game was the last of a five-game home stand for Georgia, which plays at No. 20 Colorado on Dec. 28.