Coming off a two-game losing streak, the Georgia Bulldogs (11-5, 1-2 SEC) dominated the Tennessee Volunteers (10-6, 2-2 SEC), 80-63, in front of a packed home crowd at Stegeman Coliseum.
Georgia broke a two-game losing streak to the Volunteers dating back to early 2018. The Bulldogs have edged the Volunteers 40-33 when the series has been played in Athens, and Tennessee has not won in Stegeman Coliseum since 2011.
“You have to give Georgia a lot of credit tonight. We never really had a competitive fight at all night,” said Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes in his post-game press conference. “We played at a much slower pace than we wanted to play, and couldn’t keep up with Georgia’s transition game.”
In the first few minutes, Georgia’s Rayshaun Hammonds scored the first points of the night on a three-point play. The Volunteers answered right back with a three-pointer from Josiah-Jordan James. The two teams continued to trade blows up to the 17:08 mark, but then the Volunteers went on a 9-0 run.
During that nearly four-minute span, Hammonds had two quick personal fouls and was pulled from the game.
With 13:14 to go, Georgia finally broke the drought with an Edwards three-pointer then going on a 23-7 run. Edwards was responsible for 10 of those 23 points with two threes, a layup, and two made free throws.
“We could not stop Edwards when he got going,” said Barnes. “You know, the two of them (Hammonds) scored a combined 47 of their points. I thought Hammonds was a really good player too, and he did well tonight. The little point guard (Wheeler) just totally dominated the first half. He got the ball when he wanted, and did what he wanted to do. That goes back to our scouting report. We did nothing in terms of following the scouting report. In terms of we let them open up the court, and drive inside a lot.”
Hammonds entered the game again, then nailed two back-to-back three-pointers with just under 8:30. James had a couple of baskets for the Vols in the last eight minutes, but it was all Edwards down the stretch.
Edwards led Georgia in the first half with 20 points on 60 percent shooting from the field and was perfect from the line. Hammonds was Georgia’s second-leading scorer in the first half with nine points.
Georgia shot a strong 53.1 percent in the opening half as Tennessee struggled shooting just 34.4 percent. The difference was the Bulldogs’ shooting from beyond the arc is they were 8-of-13 (61.5 percent). Tennessee was a mere 4-of-14 (28.6 percent) from the three-point line.
The Bulldogs returned after the break starting out sloppy shooting wise, but Hammonds and Toumani Camara quickly picked up the slack. Jordan Harris had layup inside the paint and a few free throws to extend Georgia’s lead by 13 with 11:58 to go. The Vols’ Jordan Bowden broke a three-minute silence with a layup, but the Bulldogs still led by 21 points at that point.
Tennessee was never able to really cut into Georgia’s lead, but they closed on a 9-0 to end the game to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 17.
Edwards finished the game leading the Bulldogs with 26 points, six rebounds, and three assists. Hammonds was the second-leading scorer for Georgia with 21 points and five rebounds.
Georgia finished the game shooting 47.4 percent (27-of-57) as Tennessee shot just 40 percent (24-of-60) on the night. Georgia shot 26 percent from beyond the arc against Auburn, but versus Tennessee, the Bulldogs shot 43.5 percent. Saturday against the Tigers, Georgia shot just 51 percent from the foul line, but against Tennessee, they shot 76.5 percent.
Edwards was 4-of-11 from the line Saturday, but tonight he was near perfect tonight as he shot 7-of-8.
“As soon as I got back I got into the gym and shot free throws. The last two days I have been forcing myself to shoot free-throws,” said Edwards. “Every workout I did I wouldn’t leave the gym until I made around like 22 of 22. And then I would do like 10 in a row, then 10 rapid-fire free throws. I was just dialed in when I went to the free-throw line.”
Hammonds after the game said that the last two practices have been one main focus, and that’s defense.
“We got some stuff done in practice, just playing hard. The main focus was playing defense,” said Hammonds. “We are not worried about offense. We are giving up a lot of points so we have had to focus on the defense. We are focusing on trying to stop the other team.”
Bulldogs’ head coach Tom Crean was pleased with his team’s performance tonight but still admitted there still is a lot of work to be done.
“Our offense made our defense better,” Crean said. “You always want it to be that way, that’s always a lot better. The defense was able to sustain things. We challenged shots better, we got our hands up better, our switching was better, and we were able to win the glass. We have to play that way. Our team has to learn to understand that even on the road, if we’re not making layups, or we’re not getting fouled, or not making free throws and jumpers if we let our defense continue to do the job, we’re going to be fine.”
What’s next for Georgia? They will be back in action Saturday against Mississippi State in Starkville as tipoff is set for 8:30 p.m. EST on the SEC Network. The Bulldogs return to a sold-out Stegeman Coliseum Saturday, Jan. 25 to host the Ole Miss Rebels at 5:30 p.m
Here is the video from Tom Crean’s post-game press conference: