Dawgs fall just short of Vols

ATHENS – Georgia's fans responded to their coach's plea Saturday, and they were rewarded with the Bulldogs' most entertaining game of the season.

But not with a victory. After a dreadful collapse and then a furious rally, Georgia finally fell 83-78 to No. 11 Tennessee in front of 10,523 fans, the first Stegeman Coliseum sellout of the season.

"That's the best fan base we've ever had," Georgia freshman Mike Mercer said. "I appreciate everybody coming out. I wish we had gotten the win."

Felton expressed disappointment Wednesday that more members of the Bulldog Nation weren't attending his team's games, but he made a point after Saturday's game to say his feelings were "misrepresented in the media."

"I have ever insinuated I was disappointed in the fans that come to our games," he said. "The fans that come to our game do a great job."

He also said he felt the team received plenty of support from Georgia's administration, although he said Wednesday that was one area of the program he was "working on." Felton has had no contact with athletic director Damon Evans since his initial comments, he said.

"It's just the way I feel, and that's the truth," he said.

Eighty percent of Saturday's crowd was pro-Bulldog but there were enough Volunteer fans in the stands (including country music superstar Kenny Chesney) that a "It's great to be a Tennessee Vol" chant could be heard clearly as the final seconds ticked away.

The Volunteers players thanked their fans by climbing into the second level of Stegeman to shake hands and sign autographs. More than 250 fans then stayed around 30 minutes after the game to give first-year coach Bruce Pearl a standing ovation and listen to Pearl's radio show.

All the fans who were at the game got a heck of a show. Georgia went from up 12 in the first half to down 18 in the second to back within two in the final five minutes before falling to 14-9 overall and 4-6 in the SEC. The Volunteers, led by a career high 33 points from the combustible Chris Lofton, remained two games ahead of the rest of the SEC East at 18-3 overall and 9-1 in the league.

"He's spectacular," Mercer said of Lofton. "There's not much you can say. If he gets any kind of daylight, he's going to knock it down."

Lofton set his own personal mark and the Tennessee record for 3-pointers made by going 9-for-12 from behind the arc. He eclipsed his previous best point total of 31 with two free throws at the 22 second mark that finally ended Georgia's hopes.

"There's no doubt the guy's an incredible shooter," Felton said. "He's as good a contested shooter as I've ever seen. He won the game for them today."

The Bulldogs were within four points four times in the final three minutes. On two of those occasions, Lofton hit 3-pointers to extend his team's lead. Lofton did most of his damage in the first half though.

With 9:30 left in the first half, Georgia led 19-7, had committed one turnover and had held Lofton to two points and no field goal attempts. Then Georgia collapsed, committing five straight turnovers and watching the Vols score 12 points in two minutes, 19 seconds.

Lofton scored 17 points in the last 9:12 of the half and had nine points during one minute of that stretch by hitting 3-pointers on back-to-back-to-back possessions.

"We went a little soft," Felton said. "We started playing out of anxiety. We got a little panicky and started feeding some of their momentum with rushed offensive possessions."

Georgia trailed by 18 with 11:57 left in the game but outscored Tennessee 17-3 in the next 6:14 to pull within four. The Bulldogs, whose turnaround was sparked by their switch to a 1-3-1 zone defense, cut the deficit to two with 4:40 remaining on a layup by Billy Humphrey but got no closer.

"That 1-3-1 really disrupted us and about won them the ball game," Pearl said. "Historically, I've always enjoyed going against (the 1-3-1). I think we have good stuff going against it, but they played it as effectively as I've ever seen it played."

Four Georgia starters finished with double digits led by Levi Stukes' 20. The Bulldogs also had 11 steals and forced 23 turnovers.

"It just took us too long to pull it back together," center Dave Bliss said.

NOTES: Forward Kendrick Johnson did not play for the fourth straight game due to chronic ankle problems. … All of Georgia's and Tennessee's coaches wore tennis shoes as part of a national Coaches vs. Cancer awareness promotion. … Chesney didn't come to Athens just for the game. He was in town for a Saturday night concert at Athens' famous 40-Watt Club.

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