Certainly, the Vols looked good enough to dance and at times appeared solid enough to lead. Tennessee entered the game at Athens as 13-point underdogs, but battled the Bulldogs on even terms for 40 minutes, ending regulation play deadlocked at 67-67, thanks to a pair of clutch three-pointers by Jon Higgins and the prime-time performance of SEC scoring leader Ron Slay.
In overtime, Georgia (11-4, 3-1) hit 4-of-6 from the field to take command and post an 81-76 victory over Tennessee (9-5, 2-3).
"I just hate those moral victories," Tennessee Coach Buzz Peterson said in an interview broadcast by the Vols Network. "Our guys fought hard. Hopefully, they'll learn from it and get better."
One thing the loss taught Tennessee is that there are two ways to beat a zone. You either successfully shoot over it, or you attack it with dribble penetration, probing its seams for soft spots and creating scoring opportunities.
The Vols did neither when the Dogs opted for a zone in the second half. Instead they failed to beat the shot clock on three occasions and generally stagnated in their half-court game. Freshman point guard C.J. Watson had another outstanding game overall — five points, 10 rebounds and six assists — but was reluctant to test the Dogs defense off the dribble.
"Their zone was the difference," said Peterson. "I told our guys you've got to use the dribble against the zone. C.J. has got to attack that zone and get into the teeth of the defense."
Slay tied for game-high honors with 29 points, matching the total tallied by Ezra Williams. He played 42 of 45 minutes in the SEC East Division showdown and showed he belongs among the league's best, a point Georgia head coach Jim Harrick had overlooked earlier in the week.
"Yeah, you've got to go out there and fight through the fatigue and play," Slay said of his playing load. "We struggled getting the ball in against the zone."
Tennessee enjoyed a 10-point cushion at 46-36 early in the second half but a pair of treys by Jarvis Hayes (22 points) got the Bulldogs back in contention and the crowd into the game. The Vols hit four more field goals than Georgia — 30-of-64 compared to 26-of-66 — but the Bulldogs had 12 more free throws (21-of-26 vs. 9-of-14).
The Vols return to action Saturday at home against Louisville, a team that prevailed over Tennessee in a buzzer beater last season.
"It's a big game for us on Saturday," said Slay. "We've got to go back to the weight room and get stronger and get ready for Louisville."