"I think it is psychological," said Terrence Woobury, who finished with a team-high 18 points but fouled out with 41 seconds left to play. "I feel like you do all you can, you feel like you're in position to win, but when you least expect it you let up. When you let up, they turn it on, and when they turn it on, they don't stop."
After trailing by four at the break, the Bulldogs were the aggressors in the second half. Georgia erased a big Tennessee advantage on the boards with aggressive play and hit its first three 3-pointers of the half.
With a 10-point lead, however, Georgia lost its edge, and the Volunteers climbed back into the driver's seat.
Tennessee's Tyler Smith was considered doubtful to play with an ankle injury, but scored 13 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, while Georgia faded down the stretch, notching just one field goal in the game's final eight minutes.
Tennessee had five players in double figures in scoring, led by Smith, who added 11 rebounds in the game.
"Down the stretch, when they got back and tied it and it became a one-possession game and lost our cushion, we had some panicky possessions where we rushed some shots," head coach Dennis Felton said.
More disconcerting for Felton was Georgia's lack of aggression on the glass. Just days after Georgia Tech dominated the Bulldogs on the offensive boards, Tennesee followed suit with multiple second-chance buckets down the stretch. For the game, the Volunteers had 19 offensive rebounds to Georgia's eight and finished with 21 second-chance points.
"Tech was a sign," Felton said. "This game from a rebounding standpoint was an exclamation point."
Georgia's offense appeared to be clicking on all cylinders during a 20-6 run early in the second half, but quickly lost its edge.
The Volunteers battled back to tie the game on a Cameron Tatum 3 that Albert Jackson missing a crucial rebound off a missed free throw at the 5:05 mark. Georgia would regain the lead on a free throw by Woodbury 20 seconds later, but wouldn't hit another field goal until Ricky McPhee drained a 3 with just five seconds left in the game.
"We played good in some stretches," Woodbury said, "but we've got to find a way in the last two or three minutes to do what we've got to do."
Tennessee was dominant in the post, outscoring Georgia 50-24 in the paint and hauling in 13 more rebounds in the game.
The loss was the third straight for the Bulldogs, who own just one win over a BCS-conference opponent. The game was the first taste of SEC play for several of Georgia's key contributors, however, including Thompkins who netted 14 points along with nine rebounds, but was held scoreless over the final 14:06 of the game.
The inexperience for the Bulldogs, who had three freshmen on the court at once throughout much of the game, was the easy explanation for another late-game failure, but freshman Dustin Ware said the lessons learned are nothing new.
"It's what we've been talking about – just a lot of breakdowns," Ware said. "Breakdowns offensively, defensively, not finishing possessions, blocking out. It's hurt us the last three games, but it's something we're going to definitely correct. We're going to have to get it straight, otherwise we're going to keep on this trend, and none of us want to do that."