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Tennessee Volunteers 86, Georgia Bulldogs 77: Pearl's decloaking saves the day

Or WOOO! Wait. Whew!

As odd as it sounds, it was, at first, good to get past the out of conference schedule and into SEC play. After all, Tennessee had already played a bunch of NCAA Tourney teams and first up in conference play was Georgia, who didn't even have any players to watch. So yeehaw for breaks. Or so we'd thought.

The Vols got out to an early 7-2 lead and then, after permitting the Bulldogs to cut it to 10-8, stretched the lead to eight and kept it there for most of the first half. Even when the scoreboard read 36-32 as the teams were trotting off to the locker room, it seemed as if Tennessee had the game in hand.

And then came the second half. Georgia tied the game in three minutes, then took the lead. Then they extended the lead. Then they kept it.

And then Bruce Pearl took his jacket off, and with that simple move the team seemed to shed its shackles and started playing BruceBall. Defensive intensity increased. Offensive chemistry began to smoke and threaten to explode. Players were hitting threes and hitting the floor for loose balls. They were finding teammates on fast breaks for easy buckets. They were penetrating and kicking out and faking and driving again before assisting and scoring. They were again dominating their opponent.

Tyler Smith was once again a man, scoring 24 points, hauling down 11 rebounds, dishing out six assists, and racking up a steal and a block to boot. In all, five Volunteers were in double figures. Chism had 12 points and seven rebounds despite being in foul trouble for much of the game. Bobby Maze hit some big shots and seemed to mature in front of our eyes. The best thing, though, was that the team came together and played together best when Pearl somehow showed he was serious simply by ditching the coat.

Good thing, too, because this game was in jeopardy. Sure, it was great to see the Vols outscore the Bulldogs 15-5 in the last five minutes following Pearl's decloaking, but it leaves fans to wonder. Just how good can this team be if they can play untethered for an entire game?

One thing I know. When things aren't clicking, I'll be looking at Pearl shedding his jacket to be the turning point. Show us some suspenders, Bruce!