Tennessee started against Georgia where they left off in Fayetteville. Playing again without point guard Trae Golden, Tennessee had six turnovers and trailed 8-2 at the under sixteen timeout. After eighteen minutes, Tennessee had 11 turnovers and just five made baskets. And at the end of the game, they had dropped their second straight and sixth in SEC play, 68-62.
Tennessee needed 10 made free throws in the first half to keep the deficit in single digits, as Georgia shot 7/13 from beyond the arc and led 35-26. But in the second half, Kenny Hall and Jarnell Stokes, who had combined for just two points in the opening 20 minutes, started to get rolling.
Hall and Stokes scored eight of Tennessee's first ten points in the second half, and like against Arkansas, Tennessee worked back from the deficit. Unlike against Arkansas, they came all the way back, using a flurry from Josh Richardson and a spectacular three-point play from Jordan McRae to work the score to 43-43, the only tie of the ballgame.
But as has become frighteningly familiar to Tennessee fans, the moment it looked as thought the Vols were on the cusp of taking control, things fell apart. In the next six possessions, Tennessee scored 0 points, missed three layups, and committed their first three turnovers of the second half. And five minutes after forcing the tie, Tennessee was staring a nine-point deficit in the face.
To their credit, Tennessee worked back again, going on a 10-2 run to cut Georgia's lead to 54-53. But for the second straight game, the Vols' defense was unable to stop their opponent's premier scorer. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who finished with 24 points on 9/12 shooting, including 5/7 from deep, hit a three to stretch the Georgia lead to four and start a run of seven straight possessions in which the Bulldogs saw the ball drop through the hoop.
All told, despite the turnover problems in the first half, Tennessee had only their defense to blame. They only lost the turnover battle by two, but they did allow Georgia to shoot 50% from the floor and 55% from beyond the arc, they let Georgia's premier scorer net 24 points with a true shooting percentage of 93%, and they allowed Georgia to go 5/5 from the field in the last four and a half minutes. Tennessee's calling card is defense, and if their defense hadn't let them down, they would've weathered the offensive struggles. But the defense did let them down, and the Vols dropped what was arguably the easiest game remaining on their schedule--only one home game remains against a team under .500 in SEC play--and fell to 3-6 and 10th in the SEC.
Last year's Vols showed they could overcome adversity and make a run through SEC play, and this year's have played the last two games without both their best player and their only ball-handler, but Tennessee is trending in the wrong direction, and they need to cut the turnovers and get back to playing fundamental defense if they want to pull out of a potential tailspin. The next chance is Saturday afternoon in Columbia.