Trey Thompkins won the battle, but Wayne Chism and Tennessee won the war.
UGA's sophomore had another spectacular effort against the Vols, with 25 points and 10 rebounds. In the first half, Thompkins put Georgia in front early and kept them there, as the Vols' experiment with Bobby Maze and Melvin Goins in the lineup together was unproductive, and Georgia's 2-3 zone continued to work against cold shooting. It wasn't pretty, and Georgia led 29-24 at the break.
But in the second half, the Vols started Wayne Chism and Brian Williams together, and made it their business to attack Georgia in the paint. As a result, the Vols quickly tied the score, then took their first lead since 6-5 at 37-35. Thompkins kept Georgia in it, as the Dawgs answered several runs. But in the end, Tennessee's best players did their best work in the paint: Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince, Bobby Maze, and Scotty Hopson all finished with double figures, as the Vols built a solid lead and held it down the stretch, winning 69-60.
The Vols were dominated on the glass in Athens, but tonight lost by only one, 33-32. Georgia didn't have enough weapons beyond Thompkins, and Tennessee was able to do enough damage despite shooting only 3 of 16 from beyond the arc against Georgia's zone. Bobby Maze had several pretty plays in transition, Scotty Hopson made a better effort to get to the rim, and while he didn't get Thompkins' numbers, Chism was no slouch with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Tennessee's penetration and movement on offense allowed J.P. Prince - who scored 2 points in Athens - more freedom on the baseline, good for several dunks and 13 points.
The Vols go to South Carolina on Saturday, and it'll be interesting to see what Bruce Pearl does with the lineup. The starting five the Vols put on the floor tonight traded size for athleticism, but the Maze-Goins-Hopson-Prince-Chism combo was unproductive. Brian Williams saw increased action and did some good things tonight, with Renaldo Woolridge staying on the bench. And Steven Pearl was key in a second half spurt, scoring on consecutive drives to the basket - will he continue to see a lot of minutes?
Again, there's no such thing as a bad win in college basketball, especially at this point, and the Vols will take this one and hopefully ride the wave of the second half to Columbia. The Vols go to 19-6, 7-4 in the SEC, and will face a South Carolina team that, as I write, is currently down 21 points in the second half at Arkansas, a performance that should finish off any hopes of earning an at-large bid. Tennessee was at their best against the Gamecocks last time around, and there should be no reason for a letdown on Saturday. We'll keep taking them one at a time...the next one will get the Vols to 20 wins and assure a .500 record at worst in SEC play. If the Vols play the way they did the last time against Carolina, or the way they did in the second half tonight, we'll get it done again.