The No. 16 Tennessee Volunteers, with three wins in their past four games, carry some momentum into their matchup with the Georgia Bulldogs on Wednesday in Knoxville, Tenn.
In the Volunteers’ most recent game, on Saturday at Kentucky, coach Rick Barnes knew exactly what to tell his players after they fell behind by 10 points with 12 minutes remaining.
“We can’t get back in the game if we’re going to keep turning the ball over. You have to get stops. We have to get a shot every time,” he said. “And all we had to do was turn around. We had guys behind us that can shoot the ball, that were waiting.”
The Volunteers (13-4, 6-4 SEC) followed Barnes’ strategy. Tennessee went on a 12-0 run to go up 60-58 with 8:37 left. The game was tied three times after that before the Volunteers went on another 12-0 run for a 74-64 cushion with less than four minutes left en route to an 82-71 win.
Keon Johnson scored 17 of his 27 points in the second half for the Volunteers, and fellow freshman Jaden Springer netted 14 of his 23 after the break.
“We felt like when we (were) down 10, we gave them that lead,” said Johnson, who finished 9-for-16 from the field and 9-for-11 from the free-throw line. “We just had to take care of the ball and play under control.”
Georgia (12-6, 5-6) is coming off a 73-70 win over visiting Vanderbilt on Saturday, the Bulldogs’ third consecutive victory.
Toumani Camara made a go-ahead free throw with 15 seconds to play and then added a game-saving block on the ensuing possession to lift the Bulldogs. Georgia overcame 21 turnovers thanks in part to 58.7 percent field-goal shooting.
Georgia’s Sahvir Wheeler posted 16 points on 8-of-10 shooting to go along with a game-high nine assists. P.J. Horne added 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range.
“I think it’s huge, right?” Georgia coach Tom Crean said. “I mean, the prognosticators picked us 13th (in the SEC) at the beginning of the year, and it’s hard to win, man. It’s extremely hard to win. It’s tough all the way around. You’re thankful that you get these opportunities.”
Tennessee initially was slated to oppose Georgia on March 3. However, the game was moved up after Tennessee’s and Georgia’s scheduled opponents for Wednesday, Florida and Texas A&M, respectively, were unavailable due to a combination of positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing.
The SEC hasn’t determined makeup dates for Georgia-Texas A&M and Tennessee-Florida.
Tennessee has five players who average between 9.2 and 10.5 points per game — Springer (10.5), John Fulkerson (10.4), Victor Bailey Jr. (10.4), Johnson (10.1) and Yves Pons (9.2). Josiah-Jordan James averages a team-high 6.0 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.
Wheeler (13.6 ppg), Camara (12.5), K.D. Johnson (11.9) and Andrew Garcia (10.1) all average in double figures for the Bulldogs. Justin Kier (9.9, team-high 2.1 steals per game) and Tye Fagan (9.7) are close behind. Wheeler contributed 7.4 assists per game.
–Field Level Media