Georgia fans, you've got a good basketball team and some NBA talent. The Dawgs have come a long way in a hurry under Mark Fox; Georgia beat Kentucky and was every bit Tennessee's equal tonight.
That equality may have been skewed a bit by Teddy Valentine's crew - I did think the officiating was fairly consistent, but Josh Bone's jumper with 2:25 to play that put the Vols up 55-54 was, upon further review, clearly released after the shot clock had expired. And you can debate whether or not Brian Williams was over the back with less than a second on the block - a call that would've given Georgia free throws and a chance to win on the other end - and I'm pretty sure where I would stand on that one were I wearing red and black.
But I'm not. And it's nothing personal with Georgia...it's just someone else's turn to complain about officiating for a while. We're all tapped out here. So much so that I don't even really care to bring up the confusion about Brian Williams' basket interference in the first half that really should've been called on Trey Thompkins...
...but it doesn't matter. Because what happened, happened...and what happened was, Brian Williams put back a Tobias Harris miss as the clock struck zero, and the Vols go home winners.
This was a huge win for Tennessee. Absolutely huge. The only way you shed inconsistency is to put together consecutive quality wins, and Vanderbilt and Georgia certainly qualify. The Vols have played to the wire every night in the SEC, and against the better teams in the league it's probably what we should expect the rest of the year. While the Arkansas game was a struggle, tonight was the third straight really good basketball game we've seen - nine ties and eleven lead changes, including four of each in the final twelve minutes.
But just as we did against Vanderbilt, tonight the Vols found a way to win the close games that eluded them throughout non-conference play. The script was familiar: get the best play from your best players (15 each from Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris), and outwork the other team on the glass (31-25 Vols, 12-6 offensive). Continuing to inexplicably be the third or fourth story every night, how's about this line for our freshman: 15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 5 blocks. J.P. Prince would be proud.
Tennessee also needs a spark from somebody else to win games like these, and for the second straight night, Brian Williams provided it.
Williams was a big part of a defensive effort that held Trey Thompkins to 4 of 13 from the floor and only 4 rebounds, a monumental departure from his usual stuff. The Dawgs countered, however, by knocking down 46.2% of their threes, fifteen percentage points better than their average. Still, the Vols held a Georgia team that dropped 98 on Ole Miss and 77 on Kentucky to 57 tonight. Tennessee was a little too in love with the three with 19 attempts, but once again Skylar McBee was huge in that department.
The Vols played 12 players tonight and got zero points from a third of them (including Cameron Tatum - for Tennessee to win this game when Tatum puts up a goose egg? Huge.). But when you know you're going to get at least 15 from your two best players, you don't need everybody else to score a ton. It was McBee again tonight - 10 against Vandy, two big threes in 19 minutes of action against the Dawgs.
And if Williams has truly rediscovered his offensive skill set, the Vols can once again become the very dangerous team that is already 2-0 against the Big East. We've got four days to figure out how to earn the trifecta against UConn, but I guarantee you it will have to involve Williams playing huge again.
In a week the Vols really needed to split, Georgia was always the bigger of the two wins - UConn will have the flash and the "rivalry", but this was a road SEC East win, and we'll take all of those we can get. Tennessee improves to 12-6 and is back to even money in the SEC at 2-2, and things now get a little less tense for Tony Jones - Bruce will be back on Saturday, then Jones returns for LSU, at Ole Miss, at Auburn, and Alabama. Tennessee should be 6-2 in the SEC when Pearl comes back for good - if we're as good as we showed tonight, we sweep that stretch. It's what we're capable of, and the sort of big boy performance we should expect from a team who's now won consecutive big boy games.
Georgia will get another shot on February 19. But tonight, the Vols played for and made the breaks...and when one came our way, we scored.