Tennessee forward Wayne Chism (4) grabs a loose ball and goes to the floor with Georgia center Dave Bliss, right, on his back. (AP Photo/John Amis)
March 3, 2007
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) -- 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 and win for the seventh time in eight games on Saturday.
The Volunteers (22-9, 10-6 Southeastern Conference) secured the Eastern Division's No. 3 seed. They will play LSU in the first round of the league 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, who have yet to learn their first-round opponent.
Smith credited Tennessee's defense with Georgia's poor ball movement in the final minutes. After Gaines nearly lost on the Bulldogs' baseline, Georgia coach Dennis Felton called timeout to settle down his team.
The Vols led 60-56 with 3:32 remaining, and Felton knew Tennessee's high-wire transition game had reclaimed momentum, but the Bulldogs returned with little urgency, and the shot clock expired on Gaines' air-ball.
``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 the ball 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 put-back for the Bulldogs, but Lofton followed with a 3 from the left corner before stealing the ball from Takais Brown and driving for a layup that made it 60-56.
Winners of six straight and nine of 11 against Georgia, the Vols had a 12-point lead twice in the first half, the second time coming on Smith's 3-pointer.
``His two 3s were the difference in the game,'' Felton said. ``He is a big-time player with big-time moments.''
The Bulldogs were just 5-of-21 on 3-point attempts, but Tennessee, which finished the regular season with a school record 279 treys, went 11-of-26.
Ramar Smith had 13 for the Vols, and Brown finished with 13 for Georgia.
Because the Bulldogs rarely play before a full house at Stegeman Coliseum, Tennessee fans were able to buy hundreds of tickets in the upper levels and then drive 40 minutes west to watch the No. 2 Lady Vols play No. 11 LSU in the SEC women's tournament in Duluth.
The orange-clad fans, who congregated near the floor when the game ended, roared with delight when Smith and coach Bruce Pearl emerged from the tunnel for radio interviews.
After improving his two-year record at Tennessee to 44-17, 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. They had 12 versus Mississippi State and 11 versus Kentucky, so we were bound and determined to not let them beat us from 3.''