ATHENS, Ga. - Tennessee trailed by one with four minutes remaining when JaJuan Smith finally snapped at Georgia's fans.
The junior guard stood near the Volunteers' baseline and pronounced a Tennessee victory.
"We had been down, but we started feeling it, and somebody needed to let them know," Smith said. "It was just a matter of us getting the lead back, and a lot of the credit has to go to our crowd.
"We had a lot of people here today."
Smith scored 19 points and Chris Lofton had 14 to help Tennessee beat Georgia 71-65 on Saturday and win for the seventh time in eight games.
The Vols (22-9, 10-6 Southeastern Conference) secured the Eastern Division's No. 3 seed. They will play LSU in the first round of the SEC tournament next week in Atlanta.
Georgia (17-12, 8-8) has lost two straight and three of four to become the East's No. 5 seed. Sundiata Gaines scored 18 points to lead the Bulldogs, whose first-round opponent is still to be determined.
Smith credited Tennessee's defense with Georgia's poor ball movement in the final minutes. After Gaines nearly lost the ball on the Bulldogs' baseline, Georgia coach Dennis Felton called time out to settle down his team.
The Vols led 60-56 with 3:32 remaining, but the Bulldogs returned with little urgency, and the shot clock expired on Gaines' airball.
"We made it tough on them," Smith said. "But that possession was pretty much a case of us seeing that they were just standing around and nobody wanted the ball."
Georgia's hopes were essentially dashed at the 2:22 mark. Levi Stukes had stolen the ball and was about to score a layup when Dane Bradshaw knocked it away. Jordan Howell recovered for Tennessee, which took a 63-56 lead on Wayne Chism's straightaway 3.
Lofton, who began the game with a 20.8 average as the SEC's leading scorer, was just 4-of-10 from the field, but the junior guard took control of the game with 5:33 remaining and Georgia leading by two.
With Stukes guarding him tightly, Lofton hit a 25-foot 3-pointer in front of the Tennessee bench that gave the Vols a 55-54 lead.
"I've said it many times before, but he has won so many games for them single-handedly," Felton said. "He hits big shots with regularity, and even though today he was well defended, it seemed like every shot he hit was a dagger or a big shot."
Steve Newman answered with a putback for the Bulldogs, but Lofton followed with a 3 before stealing the ball from Takais Brown and driving for a layup that made it 60-56.
The Vols have won six straight and nine of 11 against Georgia.
The Bulldogs were just 5-of-21 on 3-point attempts while the Vols went 11-of-26.
Ramar Smith had 13 points for the Vols, and Brown finished with 13 for Georgia.
Coach Bruce Pearl praised the Vols' perimeter defense, which held Stukes without a 3 in six attempts.
"He is Georgia's all-time leader in 3-pointers," Pearl said. "We felt that they relied on the 3. ... We were bound and determined to not let them beat us from 3."
"The game would've come easier for us if he would've been making those shots," Felton said of Stukes. "There's no doubt about that."comments powered by Disqus