Jordan McRae couldn't beat the Georgia Bulldogs all by himself ... but he certainly tried.
Tennessee's hot-shooting junior guard scored more points (35) than all of his teammates combined (33) as the Vols came up on the short end of a 78-68 score Saturday afternoon in Athens. It was the most points by a Tennessee player since Chris Lofton hung 35 on Texas in 2006.
McRae was magnificent — hitting 66.7 percent (10 of 15) from the field and 72.7 percent (8 of 11) from 3-point range. The rest of the Vols combined to hit 28.6 percent (12 of 42) from the field and 14.3 percent (2 of 14) from 3. Head coach Cuonzo Martin realized early on that his offense was out of sync.
"We didn't flow," he said on the post-game show. "I thought out of the gates that we didn't do a good job with our spacing, cutting and moving. We were standing quite a bit, especially when the double-team was going toward Jarnell (Stokes) — standing and watching to see what Jarnell does with the ball. We didn't do a good job with our motion."
Georgia outscored Tennessee 30-14 on points in the paint by collapsing on Stokes and limiting him to 8 points on 3-of-7 shooting. He still managed 10 rebounds, his 10th double-digit rebounding effort in the past 11 outings. Senior post Kenny Hall came off the bench to hit 4 of 5 shots and contribute 10 points.
Other than McRae, Tennessee's perimeter play was awful. Junior point guard Trae Golden made just 1 of 10 shots (a 3-pointer) and 1 of 3 from the foul line en route to 4 points.
"They identified Trae Golden, kept him in front of them," Martin said. "They did a good job when Trae came off ball screens.... Obviously, Trae didn't get into a flow tonight. When you don't get the production from Trae and Jarnell, in most cases, it's going to be a long night for you."
It didn't help that Skylar McBee made just 1 of 8 shots (1 of 7 from 3) and fellow guard Josh Richardson connected on just 3 of 11 from the field.
"I thought Skylar had some good looks," Martin said. "Skylar competed and played hard. We just didn't get the shots."
The win gives Georgia a sweep of the season series. The Bulldogs, now 14-15 overall and 8-8 in SEC play, won 68-62 in Knoxville on Feb. 6. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who scored 24 points in that meeting, produced 25 in the rematch. He also contributed 9 rebounds and 4 steals. Freshman Charles Mann came off the Dawgs' bench to contribute 18 points and 8 assists, sinking 12 of 14 free throws.
Tennessee, now 17-11 overall and 9-7 in league play, saw a six-game winning streak that began on the heels of the earlier loss to Georgia snapped. The Vols sealed their doom by allowing the Dawgs to score 53 second-half points.
"I don't think we played well as a team defensively," Martin said. "I thought we had some breakdowns there. We didn't accept the challenge on some of those dribble-penetrations and also some of those ball-screen drives. We have to do a better job with that."
The coach wasn't pleased with his team's hustle, either, noting: There was a lot of loose balls that I thought we could've got that we didn't get."
Tennessee registered the game's first seven points but Georgia outscored the Vols 25-7 over the next 13 minutes to move ahead 25-14. Tennessee scored the final eight points of the half, however, and went to the break down just 25-22.
A 3-pointer by McRae gave Tennessee a 41-40 lead with 12 minutes remaining but the Bulldogs outscored the Vols 22-9 over the next nine minutes to go up 62-50 with 2:57 remaining. The key players during this stretch were Mann and fellow freshman Kenny Gaines. Mann scored 7 points (5 from the foul line) and Gaines hit two key 3-pointers.
A McRae 3-pointer whittled the deficit to six points (64-58) with 1:37 to play but Gaines converted a three-point play and Mann hit four more free foul shots to stifle the comeback. As a team the Dawgs sank 22 of 26 from the free-throw line.
"They did a good job attacking the rim when they needed to make plays," Martin said. "Also, Caldwell-Pope did a good job making some big shots when he needed to. We just didn't make the stops we needed to win the ball game."
Tennessee returns to action Wednesday night visiting Auburn at 8 Central, 9 Eastern.