The space between what each team did well and what they did poorly was a chasm today. Consider:
- Josh Richardson averages 16.2 points per game and had 30 against Mississippi State on Tuesday. He didn't score until the final minutes, going 1 of 13 against great man-up defense from Georgia. His previous season low was eight. If you're going to get just a deuce from your best player on the road, you should expect to get crushed.
- But...the Vols forced 20 turnovers, including a season high 14 steals. Tennessee's defense bothered Georgia early and late, giving Tennessee 18 more shot attempts than the Bulldogs. This is what Donnie Tyndall's defense is built to do, and it's been doing it against the toughest competition: when the Vols had double digit steals, they were 3-0 before today: Kansas State, Butler, and Arkansas.
- But...when Tennessee didn't get a turnover, it got scored on easily. Georgia's balance was on full display today, getting between 7-10 points from all five starters including the returning Marcus Thornton. The Dawgs may have had 18 fewer shot attempts, but they went 21 of 38 (55.3%) from the floor. And J.J. Frazier hit the game's most important shots, rapid fire NBA+ threes to keep Georgia's lead just out of reach in the final ten minutes.
This all adds up to an ugly game that the Vols still had a chance to win. That's thanks in large part to the non-Josh Richardson men in orange, who went 19 of 43 (44.1%) including 16 from Armani Moore, 15 from Robert Hubbs, and 10 from Kevin Punter. Punter's last point came on the front end of a one-and-one with 7.4 seconds left, cutting Georgia's lead to three. He missed the second, the Vols got the rebound, and Richardson missed a double-clutch three that would've tied it, the clock expiring in the ensuing scramble. Georgia ends its two game slide and the Vols come out on the losing end of another road test at one of the league's best, missing a three in the final seconds that would've tied it just as they did at Arkansas.
Tennessee drops to 13-9 (5-5), and will go to Vanderbilt Wednesday night. We've certainly seen enough from Richardson to believe today was simply an aberration, and you really have to be encouraged by the way the rest of the guys played without any production from him. Tennessee could have been blown out and maybe they should have in games like this with or without Richardson giving them anything. But Tyndall's squad continues to compete every single night, playing scrappy, ugly basketball down to the wire. Today, it was just a little too ugly to make the difference. But there's still plenty to play for, including staying above .500 in league play in their next outing in Nashville.