Cameron Tatum didn't like the look he had. So, with three seconds on the shot clock and Tennessee clinging to a scant 51-47 lead, he shoveled the ball to a guy who never met a shot he didn't like.
Jordan McRae, who stays in launch mode, unloaded an 18-foot jumper from the key that swished through the rim just as the shot-clock buzzer sounded and the game clock moved to 6:41. At this point, the roar of the Tennessee fans was matched only by the sound of the air rushing out of the Georgia Bulldogs.
Feeding off an emotional high, McRae added a 3-pointer from the left wing and a driving three-point play as the Vol lead swelled to 61-51 en route to a 73-62 victory Saturday night at Thompson-Boling Arena. Clearly, his shot clock-beating jumper with 6:41 left was the biggest play of the game.
"When he (Tatum) first threw it to me I tried to catch and shoot it, and I mishandled it," McRae recalled. "I realized I didn't have time to go to the hole, so I just put up the shot. That turned out to be a big momentum swing for us."
Asked if the thought the shot was going in when it left his hand, McRae grinned broadly.
"I'd be crazy not to," he quipped. "I think every shot is going in when it leaves my hand."
After playing great defense for 34 seconds only to see McRae save the possession with a forced jumper, the Dawgs were devastated.
"That takes something out of any team — playing defense like that and then somebody hits a shot at the end of the shot clock," McRae said. "It hurts."
The driving three-point play that bumped the lead to 61-51 also came as the shot clock was about to expire. That suggests McRae may be the Vols' best go-to option in a pinch.
"That's just the way it ended up," he said. "At the end of the shot clock somebody had to make a play, and that's what we did."
McRae finished 5 of 9 from the field and 3 of 5 from beyond the arc en route to 14 points. He also added 2 assists and 2 rebounds in 24 turnover-free minutes as the Vols improved to 11-12 overall and 3-5 in SEC play.
"I was real proud of Jordan — how he came out there and played with a lot of energy and tenacity," said teammate Jeronne Maymon, who contributed 15 points and 8 rebounds. "He actually played really good defense tonight."
McRae and Maymon weren't the only heroes for the Vols. Junior Skylar McBee, making his first career start in his 87th college game, sank five of six foul shots in the final 34.4 seconds after Georgia rallied to within 66-60. McBee finished with 10 points.
Sophomore point guard Trae Golden, who surrendered his starting spot to McBee Saturday night, came off the bench to produce a team-high 16 points, a team-high 5 assists and 6 rebounds in 28 quality minutes.
Georgia, now 10-12 overall and 1-7 in SEC play, got 16 points from freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and 15 from Dustin Ware. Head coach Mark Fox was administered two technical fouls and ejected after walking onto the court to complain about a no-foul call with 19 seconds left and Tennessee leading 70-62. McBee hit three of the four technical free throws at this point to close the scoring.
Tennessee head coach Cuonzo Martin praised the home crowd, noting that it "did a tremendous job of representing" and "really helped us out down the the stretch."
McRae helped out down the stretch, too, a fact the head man duly noted.
"He's putting the time in in the gym; that's why you're seeing those results," Martin said. "There's no magic tricks. If you put the time in in the gym, the results will eventually follow."
McRae started Tennessee's first 14 games only to be benched just as SEC play began. When he presses he can be a liability. When he plays with poise — as he did Saturday night — he can be a real weapon.
"Jordan came out and played with confidence, had a little swagger to him," Martin said. "That helps."