A Thompson-Boling Arena crowd of 21,612, the largest to see a Vols' home opener since 1989, was treated to a back-and-forth game for 30 minutes and then watched their Volunteers pull away to lead that reached 18 points at its zenith.
"This is our second SEC game and the second game in which we've scored plenty of points to win," Georgia coach Dennis Felton said. "Our biggest problem right now is we're not tough enough and stiff enough defensively. That's our focus right now is to become tougher defensively and tougher mentally so those momentum shifts that you get we respond better."
The Bulldogs (10-5, 0-2 SEC) haven't won an SEC road game since Jan. 17, 2004. Tennessee, which beat then-No. 2 Texas earlier this year, improved to 11-1 overall, 2-0 in the SEC under first-year coach Bruce Pearl and is off to its best start since 2001.
Georgia goes back on the road Saturday for a 3 p.m. game against South Carolina in Columbia, S.C.
The Bulldogs committed 22 turnovers against the Volunteers. Tennessee forces more turnovers than any team in the SEC but most of Georgia's were unforced, the result of sloppy passes or poor movement by players who didn't have the ball.
"A lot of times we rushed," point guard Sundiata Gaines said. "The crowd was getting excited and loud and we were rushing quick passes. As a team we need to come together a little better, especially in the times things aren't going well."
Georgia trailed 59-55 after Terrance Woodbury converted a three-point play with a layup and foul shot with 10:47 remaining. On the Bulldogs' next trip down the floor, Woodbury had another inside opportunity, but his shot was blocked by Stanley Asumnu.
Felton was livid that a foul wasn't called, and the play energized the Vols, who scored 13 of the next 19 points.
The game may have marked a turning point for the future of Georgia's post play. Junior Steve Newman and sophomore Dave Bliss kept their starting jobs but were barely a factor, combining for 14 minutes and zero points. Newman didn't start the second half.
"They are more athletically gifted (than Bliss and Newman), and Tennessee is very fast and athletic," Felton said. "I thought they would be a better matchup."
Georgia held Chris Lofton, Tennessee's leading scorer, to zero points in the first half and then appeared to forget that Lofton is one of the nation's best shooters. He didn't get his first points until the 18:12 mark of the second half but still finished with 16, right at his season average.
Point guard C.J. Watson led Tennessee with 20 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the floor and 9-of-10 free throw shooting. He also had nine rebounds, six assists and five steals in 31 minutes.
"I have to give it to him," Gaines said. "He had a great game."
The Bulldogs trailed 40-36 at halftime. They shot 58 percent from the floor in the opening 20 minutes but committed 14 turnovers and had just seven assists. Twice in the first half Georgia took the lead, once at 25-24 and again at 36-35, but it was brief each time.