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Georgia 81 - Tennessee 72: Dawggone It

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Georgia combined their usual solid defense with an outlier performance from behind the arc to eventually pull away for the win.

Don't be fooled...this is probably a 3 being hit.
Don't be fooled...this is probably a 3 being hit.
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

I moved to Memphis a couple of months ago to work for the Grizzlies. They played the Rockets last night, and despite being tied halfway through the 4th quarter, they were eventually crushed beneath a barrage of 18 Houston deep balls and the weight of their own offensive inadequacies. It was a fitting preview for tonight's game.

Georgia shot 50% from the field and 63% from three-point range while holding the Vols to 38% overall and 26% from deep. J.J. Frazier led the Dawgs with 28 (4/5 from deep) and Kenny Gaines added 23 (6/10 from deep); Punter need 17 shots to get his 16 points while Mostella chipped in another 16. I could probably just end the recap there, but I'm a glutton for punishment and a sucker for being verbose, so we'll keep going.

It was a weird first half. Will mentioned in his preview that Georgia hangs its hat on tough defense. Their length, size, and matchup zone clearly bothered Tennessee as the Vols shot 37%, turned it over 9 times, committed 12 fouls, and struggled to find any rhythm.

The Vols' defense inspires less confidence, but UGA turned it over 16 (!) times in the first half. Give Barnes' troops some credit as UT trapped much more aggressively on pick and rolls than they've shown so far this season. Give the rest of the credit to a general Georgia malaise as a few passes were delivered directly to the fans in the 4th row.

Despite their defensive prowess, UGA is not particularly adept at offense...so naturally they went bing, bang, boom on three straight possessions to seize a 9-2 lead early. Rather than get run out of the gym, UT buckled down on defense to go on a 7-0 run of their own to tie things up 5 minutes in.

How did the Dawgs respond? By hitting a 3. A sloppy stretch allowed the Vols to take a 16-14 lead on a Mostella deep ball. Georgia came right back with another long one. 15 of Georgia's first 17 points came from outside the arc, which is tough to do for any team that doesn't have Steph Curry.

From there, the game really bogged down with the teams combining to go more than 4 minutes without scoring from the field. Throw some weird foul calls, a couple missed free throws, a few more turnovers in there, and it was a real barnburner. The Vols led 32-28 before Mostella drained a 3 as the first half clock was running down, giving the good guys a 7-point halftime lead.

The second half looked a lot like the first half with Georgia getting buckets from Atlanta. They cleaned up the turnovers, though, and that was a problem.

Gaines hit a deep one for the Bulldogs right out of the chute. Punter and Moore got a couple buckets and free throws to extend the lead to 9, but another Gaines 3 ignited a 7-0 Georgia spurt to make it 43-41. After the Vols got back up 4, J.J. Frazier dazzled the crowd with a run out, spin, and pull up 3 to cut into the lead. Next time down, Gaines hit another 3 to put the Bulldogs up. Just for fun, on the Bulldogs ensuing possession, he drilled another one. Just like that, a 43-34 lead was a 52-47 deficit.

Mostella momentarily stemmed the tide, and after a Frazier jump shot, something crazy happened. It was totally wild and unexpected on a night like this...Frazier drained another 3. At that point, UGA was 11-17 from behind the arc and led by 8 points. From that point, the Dawgs only took two more long shots (hitting one, naturally) and began to pound the Vols inside.

Unlike the games against Gonzaga or Butler, there was no second half surge coming for the Vols tonight. A Baulkman and 1 and a Punter bucket got the Vols back within 5 with 8:22 to go, but that's as close as they would get. The teams more or less traded baskets with the Vols cutting the lead down to 6 with three to play, but they couldn't string together the requisite stops and scores to ratchet up the pressure.

Georgia's offensive outburst will carry the headlines, but their defense is legit. Zone teams will always be susceptible to threes, but UT couldn't hit enough in the second half to keep it interesting. When the Vols tried to get inside, the Dawgs' size and length clearly bothered them. Once UGA stopped turning it over, there were no more easy transition buckets to be had, either. The result was the Vols' lowest scoring output since Thanksgiving weekend (71 against Nebraska, 70 against GW).

It's also worth noting that for the first time since the decision to go small, UT got smoked on the boards tonight, 43-28. Barnes appears to be committed to the idea, though watch Kyle Alexander's minutes. He got 10 tonight after only playing 7 in the first 3 SEC games, but he may get more run if the team opts for a bit more size.

Next up is a game at Ben Howland's Mississippi State team, fresh off a close loss in Rupp Arena.