Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins both saw action today, meaning Tennessee's run of playing six scholarship players and three walk-ons is over. Also over is the subsequent win streak, as Georgia ambushed the Vols 78-63, picking up their first win over Tennessee since 2004.
The loss is certainly not the responsibility of Tatum or Goins, who played mostly garbage minutes at the end. The greatest burden falls on Tennessee's interior defense, where the Vols surrendered countless uncontested dunks, were outrebounded 35-20, and allowed Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie to shoot a combined 17 of 24 for 40 points.
Wayne Chism returned from a scary looking knee injury early, but was never on his game, finishing with only 6 points on 3 of 10 shooting. And a Tennessee team lauded for its depth found no quality beyond their top players today: J.P. Prince had only 4 points, Skylar McBee went 0-3 beyond the arc, and Renaldo Woolridge and Josh Bone both finished with goose eggs. The Vols got solid play from their backcourt (19 from Scotty Hopson, 11 from Bobby Maze), but in the SEC they're going to need more than that.
Down 15 at halftime, the Vols failed to take advantage of several opportunities in the first three minutes of the second half, instead matching Georgia turnover for turnover. As a result, the Vols got within a dozen at 43-31, but would get no closer as the Dawgs ran away. Georgia shot 56.3% from the floor and 7 of 12 from beyond the arc, while no one from Tennessee outside Scotty Hopson could hit a three: Hopson was 3 for 6, the rest of the team was 0 for 10. The Vols never found the spark to turn things around, and Georgia was more than willing to stay in front.
How much do we read into this? Much bigger answers are coming in the next week, as the Vols have two home dates with Vanderbilt (4-0 in the SEC) and Florida. If Tennessee takes care of business there, all will be well. But if those two exploit Tennessee in the same manner, the Vols could go from the top ten to .500 in the SEC in a heartbeat.
There's a ton of basketball left to be played, and plenty of heart still left in this team. For starters, Tennessee has to come out of the gate better - in all four conference games, the Vols have dug a hole for themselves in the first ten minutes. Tennessee must play inspired basketball for all 40 minutes to win with this lineup, not just once they get going.
Georgia will move on to continue to figure out if they're a good team or not, now 1-3 in the SEC but competitive every night. Tennessee must move on as well to a big, big week at Thompson-Boling. Was this a minor slip-up or a definitive wall to this team's progress? We'll find out next week.