Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 25 points and Georgia recovered after blowing an 11-point lead to beat Tennessee 78-68 on Saturday, ending the Vols’ six-game winning streak.
Georgia had lost four of its last five games, including in overtime at Mississippi, by two points at Arkansas and by one point at Vanderbilt on Wednesday night after leading by 17 in the first half.
The Bulldogs had enjoyed no satisfaction for consistently having chances to win.
“It was important for us to get back off the mat,” Fox said. “You have to get rewarded for doing it right. You have to have successes along the way.”
Georgia led by 12 with about 3 minutes remaining and kept the lead in double figures for the final minute.
“The last couple of games we’ve left the ball in the opponents’ hands in the last couple of seconds,” said freshman Charles Mann, who had 18 points. “It felt good to have the big margin at the end.”
Mann called the win “a confidence-booster.”
“Tennessee is a heck of a team,” he said. “To get the win puts us back on track.”
Tennessee (17-11, 9-7 Southeastern Conference) suffered its first defeat since losing to the Bulldogs 68-62 in Knoxville on Feb. 6. Jordan McRae set career highs with eight 3-pointers and 35 points to lead the Vols before fouling out with about 1 minute remaining.
Georgia (14-15, 8-8) took its first regular-season sweep of the Vols since 2001.
Mann made 12 of 14 free throws, and Georgia made 22 of 26 attempts overall.
The Vols, who moved into NCAA tournament consideration with their longest winning streak of the season, were denied their first streak of seven straight SEC wins since 2008. Kenny Hall had 10 points but no other Tennessee player scored in double figures.
Trae Golden, last week’s SEC player of the week, was only 1-of-10 from the field for four points, eight below his average. Skylar McBee missed his first seven shots before finally sinking a 3-pointer for his only points. Jarnell Stokes had eight points and 10 rebounds.
“I felt like we didn’t get the shots we were looking for,” said Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin. “Give Georgia credit defensively, but when we don’t get production from Trae and Jarnell, it’s going to be a long night.”
McRae, who averaged 28 points in his last three games, continued his hot streak. He had 27 points in the Vols’ 64-58 win over No. 8 Florida on Tuesday night. His previous highs of six 3-pointers and 34 points came in an 82-72 win over LSU on Feb. 19.
McRae made eight of 11 3-pointers but said he couldn’t enjoy another career high.
“We lost, that’s all that matters,” McRae said. “The personal stuff doesn’t mean much. It goes right out the window.”
McRae said the Vols had to shoot 3-pointers because Georgia sealed off the lanes to the basket.
“Every time we tried to drive, it was like driving into a wall,” McRae said. “There was nowhere to go. It was tough.”
Georgia had success from the 3-point line in each win over the Vols. After making 11 of 20 3s at Tennessee last month, the Bulldogs were 8-of-16 on Saturday.
The Bulldogs led by 11 at 25-14 late in the first half. The Vols rallied to lead 41-40 on McRae’s 3-pointer about eight minutes into the second half.
Georgia had a quick answer. A jam by Tim Dixon gave the Bulldogs the lead for good.
Freshman Kenny Gaines, who returned after missing one game with a heel injury, hit a 3-pointer with 5:20 remaining to give Georgia a 53-45 advantage. Gaines’ added another 3 with 2:56 remaining to push the lead to 12 points.
“Coach said to keep fighting and stay with the process,” Gaines said.
Tennessee tried to rally behind McRae, a junior who sank two 3-pointers in the final 2:30. McRae sank two free throws with 1:10 remaining to cut Georgia’s lead to 69-62. After Mann answered with two free throws, McRae fouled out with 1:02 remaining.
Georgia had five turnovers before it scored its first points. The Vols led 7-0 but couldn’t take full advantage of Georgia’s string of giveaways. The Bulldogs finished with only nine turnovers for the game, including only two in the second half.