Tom Crean was looking for consistency, toughness, and communication out of his young, talented squad coming into Wednesday's contest versus Tennessee. After starting conference play on a two-game skid against highly ranked Kentucky and Auburn, the Dawgs needed to get back to their high scoring ways against a defensive-minded Tennessee team. Entering the night, the Vols had won its last two games, only surrendering 59 and 55 points respectively to Missouri and South Carolina.
Georgia got off to a good start on the boards. Rebounding is something that Crean harped on coming into the game and after the first media timeout, the Dawgs had attacked the glass well for 5 to 2 rebounding advantage. However, the same advantage didn't show on the scoreboard as things were tied at 8 with 15:36 remaining in the opening half.
Tennessee got back to back buckets coming out of the timeout on easy looks after a miscommunication on the part of the Georgia defense. Just when things looked to be going the way of the latest Georgia contest in which Auburn captured the momentum and stymied the Bulldogs offense, Anthony Edwards ripped a pair of deep threes.
Those combined with timely, athletic plays by Donnell Gresham attacking the rim lead Georgia on a 12 to 3 run and had Georgia leading 20 to 15 going into the next stoppage in play with 10:43 in the 1st. A pair of Anthony Edwards free throws immediately out of the break pushed the run to 14 to 3 and increased the Dawgs advantage to 7.
Sahvir Wheeler and Rayshaun Hammonds continued the aggressive play for Georgia with Anthony Edwards on the bench. Wheeler made a driving layup and then pushed the ball hard in transition on back to back possessions after Dawg defensive rebounds, both instances culminating in Rayshaun Hammonds three-pointers from the left wing. The bevy of scoring had the Volunteers on their heels and forced Rick Barnes to take a 30-second timeout with 7:44 remaining and Georgia had a 32 to 19 lead.
For the remaining of the half, Georgia continued to force tough looks from Tennessee, aggressively switch screens, and limiting the Vols second chance looks. UT shot just 34% from the field and would only muster 11 points over the last seven minutes of play. Meanwhile, Georgia continued to shoot three-pointers at an incredible rate finishing 8 of 13 (62%) on the half. Triples from Sahvir Wheeler, Tyree Crump, and Anthony Edwards, plus a thunderous Edwards dunk put an exclamation point on a dominant first half and the Dawgs headed to the locker room with a 47 to 28 lead over the Volunteers.
The Dawgs and Vols both started out sloppy in the 2nd half. The play leading up to the first media timeout consisted of wide-open dunks and layups, turnovers, and rushed perimeter shots. UT outscored Georgia during those four and a half minutes 8 to 6 and the Georgia lead was 53 to 36 with 15:36 remaining in the game.
Rayshaun Hammond proved to be a calming force for the Dawgs coming out of the stoppage in play. Two of the next three possessions for the Dawgs resulted in another three-pointer, Hammonds third of the game, and a nice little jumper in the lane for the Junior from Norcross. Those plays, coupled with a continued stellar effort defensively and timely buckets by Jordan Harris and Tye Fagan helped the Dawgs control the pace and push the margin to a game-high 21 points and Georgia lead 65 to 44 with 7:17 remaining.
Tom Crean's squad finished out the contest displaying the consistency and toughness that he was seeking coming into the game. Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammond spearheaded the effort for the Dawgs with 26 and 21 points respectively. Georgia dominated from start to finish and won the key categories of rebounds, turnovers, and shooting percentage en route to an 80 to 63 victory.
The only cause for concern for the Dawgs was an early exit to watch looked like an ankle injury for Freshman Point Guard Sahvir Wheeler with 9:23 remaining in the game. The severity of the injury is not clear yet and SI's Bulldog Maven will keep you updated on the status of Georgia's young spark plug.
Overall, Crean and crew have to be thrilled with the maturity and grit that the Dawgs showed with their backs up against the wall. This win is definitely one that will speak positively for Georgia's tournament resume come March.
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