As we’ve been saying, the Vols have the RPI, strength of schedule, and advanced metrics to go dancing. If they want to hear their name called on Selection Sunday, they need to rack up wins.
For the 2nd time in 3 games, Tennessee wilted down the stretch and failed to bag a crucial victory as a 14-point lead with 15 minutes to go turned into another crushing defeat.
J.J. Frazier (who RTT will not be sad to see go) had 29 points and 6 crucial assists to outduel Grant Williams’ career-high 30. Tyree Crump added 13 for Georgia, who shot 51.8% from the field, while Robert Hubbs had 10 for UT (on 3/13 shooting).
The first half featured two evenly matched teams just straight going at each other. Williams and Alexander found the soft spot in UGA’s zone for 6 early points, but Crump and Frazier hit 3’s to match it for Georgia. Tennessee took a 10-7 lead on two Hubbs free throws, but the Dawgs came right back with 6 straight to take a lead.
In an unfortunate sign of things to come, Volundore’s power went out at this point, coming back on with the Vols down 22-21. Frazier pushed it to a 3-point lead only for Schofield to tie it on a deep one. After another exchange of buckets, both teams were 11/20 from the floor with 26 points.
UT went up 34-28 on a Williams and 1 and then two free throws, but Frazier quickly orchestrated 6 straight from Georgia to tie it up. Jordan Bone (who had an immensely forgettable game) hit 2 free throws to give the Vols a 36-34 halftime lead.
Tennessee roared out of the locker room, going on a 13-2 run in the first 3 minutes fueled largely by Grant Williams showing off his array of talents. He got fouled on a putback, hit the free throws, threw an oop to Alexander, then took his defender off the dribble from the top of the key, and then hit 2 more free throws.
Those free throws came on the 4th foul on Yante Maten, and Mark Fox earned a technical by voicing his displeasure. Lamonte Turner hit 1 of 2 to push the lead to 49-36, and after a J.J. Frazier and 1, Williams scored twice more to make it 53-39. Everything was great.
And then it wasn’t. Frazier just took over the game, mixing 3’s and slithering drives with pinpoint passes to score or assist on 22 straight points for Georgia. By the time he was done, the 14-point lead was erased and the score was tied at 58 with 8 minutes to go.
The two teams traded scores for the next 4 minutes, but Frazier helped fuel a 7-0 Georgia spurt with two assists that gave the Dawgs a 70-64 lead with 2:23 left. Tennessee fought back to make it 73-71 on a Turner 3, but needing a stop, Frazier got Lew Evans on a switch, danced him right to the bucket, and hit a layup plus a free throw to turn out the lights.
Georgia improves to 14-11, 5-7 in SEC play. Tennessee falls to 14-11 and 6-6 in the SEC, which also puts them squarely in the huge muddle in the middle of the league.
Life on the bubble is harrowing. It can feel like the season hangs in the balance of every single game. That’s not exactly true, but today’s loss makes it that much harder for the Vols down the stretch.
A huge opportunity awaits Tennessee the next time out: Kentucky at Rupp at 7pm on Tuesday.