Sitting at 1-2 in SEC, and with a challenging slate that includes Texas A&M, Arkansas and LSU in three of the next four games, Georgia needed to beat Tennessee in Athens.
They did just that - escaping a dismal first half that included 18 turnovers and a 7-point deficit going into the locker room. Georgia calmed down and started pumping in jumpers. J.J. Frazier and Kenny Gaines burned up the nets from behind the three-point line, and Yante Maten continued his near double-double ways.
It was too much the the Big Orange as Georgia cruised to an 81-72 win.
After gifting a game to Ole Miss over the weekend, Georgia had to win this game if it wanted to keep fighting for a spot in the NCAAs. Losing to an 8-7 Vols team at home would make me seriously consider throwing in the towel on this season. As it stands right now Georgia is still most assuredly on the outside of the NCAAs looking in. Losses to Chattanooga to start the season will do that sort of thing.
Fact: there are too many difficult games left on this schedule for Georgia to lose games it must win - like this one. Texas A&M and South Carolina are undefeated in league play. Kentucky is Kentucky. LSU has one of the top players in the country in Ben Simmons. Arkansas is always a difficult fight. The Gators have already trucked UGA this year.
That’s why tonight was critically important for the Dawgs.
Was it Pretty? The first half certainly wasn’t.
But Frazier and Gaines struck the Vols with pinpoint shooting - 12 of 19 on threes - and the Bulldogs whipped the Vols on the board. Had Georgia valued the basketball a little more in the first half this game would have been a pure blowout from the start.
Now at 9-5 and 2-2 in SEC play, you can see that the Dawgs do still have a path to the NCAAs. It won’t be easy, but at what point in the last seven years have Mark Fox’s clubs easily walked into post-season play?
It must be noted that Clemson’s sudden revival is helping Georgia’s NCAA chances, but from here on out Georgia is going to have to hold its own and get at least another 11 wins on the year. These Dawgs will play at least 16 more games this winter. No conference game is easy, but home wins over Arkansas, Auburn, the Gators, Ole Miss and Alabama seem like must-win games.
Road games (and Fox has really struggled to win on the road in conference play in his career in Athens) are going to have to provide some wins somewhere along the way. Trips to Missouri, Mississippi State and Auburn seem most likely to produce wins.
Critical tests vs. Texas A&M, at LSU, at Baylor, vs. South Carolina, vs. the Gators, at Vanderbilt and the SEC Tournament will probably get UGA in, or keep them out of the NCAAs. It does seem like winning in Lexington and in Columbia might be too much to ask this winter.
This was a critical, critical game for the Dawgs. They passed it with precision shooting and a decision to value the basketball a little more.