"Chris Lofton is a tremendous luxury to have on this team," Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl said. "His determination in the second half to put the team on his back and get the win was what drove us to victory."
The Bulldogs had two chances in the final 10 seconds to tie the game, but Terrance Woodbury and Sundiata Gaines each missed a 3-point attempt. Gaines' shot was a desperation attempt that came after he intentionally missed a free throw, grabbed his own rebound and raced to the corner to get off a shot, which bounced off the back of the rim.
Georgia head coach Dennis Felton called a timeout before Gaines took the final free throw and told his senior to hit the first shot and then intentionally miss the second to give the Bulldogs a chance to tip in the tying basket, but Gaines decided to miss the first shot intentionally, he said.
"I kind of knew if I made the first, they were going to be more geared up toward the second shot," he said. "I tried to catch them off guard, which I did. I got it and ran to the 3-point line. I knew time was ticking down so I knew I had to take a quick, turnaround heave and when I shot it, it felt good."
Felton, who was unaware immediately following the game that Gaines had gone against his wishes, was happy with the final shot.
"That shot was as good a shot as we could hope for," he said.
He also was proud of his team's effort despite seeing it slip to 12-11 overall and 3-7 in the SEC. Tennessee improved to 23-2 and 10-1.
"I've really enjoyed watching our team improve here recently, and I especially enjoyed watching the way they battled (Saturday) and competed and, for most of the night, made plays," he said. "We've been getting better. Obviously, we had a great, great chance to win against the team I personally believe is the best team in the country right now."
Gaines finished with 23 points, his third straight game with more than 20 and the third fifth straight time he has led the Bulldogs in scoring. He added nine rebounds, eight assists and three steals, but it was Lofton who had the final say, as is often the case against the Bulldogs.
Lofton hit two back-breaking 3-pointers, one to put Tennessee ahead by six with 6:25 left and another put his team up by seven with 3:45 left. That basket put the Volunteers ahead 74-67 and was the last score of the game for Tennessee. Lofton made seven of his nine shot attempts in the second half after hitting just 1-of-6 in the first half.
"He hits clutch shots at big moments," Gaines said. "My hat's off to him. He played hard, and he's the one who pretty much prevailed his team to the win down the stretch."
Lofton has made more 3-pointers than anyone in SEC history (398), and for Georgia fans, it feels like all of them have come against the Bulldogs. The Maysville, Ky., native has averaged 20.9 points in his seven career games against Georgia.
"It really isn't about him catching fire," Felton said. "He pretty much is consistently there all the time. You feel real good about yourself when you do hold him quiet when you can."'
Freshman forward Chris Barnes returned to the lineup from an eye infection that caused him to miss one game. He had six points, two rebounds and two blocks in 12 minutes of action but had to leave in the second half due to a knee sprain.
Junior shooting guard Billy Humphrey, Georgia's second-leading scorer, sat out the final game of his three-game suspension. He'll be available when Georgia plays Kentucky at 9 p.m. Tuesday in Lexington, Ky.
Georgia played in front of an announced crowd of 10,039, and the Tennessee contingent in that group was almost as big and just as loud as the Bulldog fans.
Almost 200 of the Tennessee fans stayed 30 minutes after the game to listen to Pearl's post-game radio show, and the group gave standing ovations to Lofton and Gaines when the players came back on the court long after the game.