Tennessee, now 15-3 and 3-1, lost for the first time since head coach Bruce Pearl suspended four players on Jan. 1. Two of the four (Cameron Tatum, Melvin Goins) have been reinstated; one (Brian Williams) remains suspended and one (Tyler Smith) has been dismissed.
"This is a little bit of what you thought you'd see when the roster got thinned," Pearl said on his post-game show. "You saw it against a really big, physical team."
With the 6-10, 270-pound Williams suspended, Tennessee had just one true post player - 6-9, 245-pound senior Wayne Chism - and he struggled mightily, making just 3 of 10 shots in a 6-point, 6-rebound effort.
"When you take Wayne out of the mix - and for whatever reason Wayne was out of the mix today - you're down to freshman Kenny Hall and Renaldo Woolridge, a small forward playing center, and Steven Pearl, a walk-on," Bruce Pearl said. "Then you get a real taste of what it's like against teams built like this. The (previous SEC) teams we played - Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn - had undersized front-line guys that our guys could match up with."
In addition to getting manhandled on the inside, the Vols were out-shot from the outside. They sank just 3 of 16 tries (18.8 percent) from 3-point range against the Bulldogs' switching defenses. Conversely, Georgia sank 7 of 12 shots (58.3 percent) from beyond the arc.
Making matters worse, Tennessee shot just 42.3 percent overall (22 of 52) and finished with more turnovers (14) than assists (9).
Scotty Hopson scored 19 to pace Tennessee. Bobby Maze added 11 and Hall, making his first career start, chipped in 10. Hopson was 3 of 6 from 3-point range; the rest of the Vols were a combined 0 of 10 from behind the arc. Goins scored 2 points and Tatum 1 in their first action since the Jan. 1 suspension.
Tennessee led just once, at 4-2, then allowed Georgia to make a 12-0 run to go up 14-4. Leslie sparked the spurt with a 17-footer and a dunk off a steal. Five of the Dawgs' first 10 baskets were dunks as they went up 25-12.
"Early in the game they dumped it in there and dumped it in there and dumped it in there," Pearl said. "Early in the game we played so soft that we let 'em catch it where they wanted to catch it, and they dumped it inside."
The Bulldogs gradually built the bulge to 40-20 en route to a 42-27 halftime lead. It marked the third game in a row in which Tennessee trailed at intermission.
The Vols whittled the deficit to 12 points (43-31) three minutes into the second half but Georgia's Dustin Ware drained a 3-pointer to open a 15-5 run that built the lead to 58-36 with 11:41 to go. Tennessee never got closer than 14 points thereafter, continually misfiring from outside.
"When they're bigger than you, you have the advantage out on the perimeter," Pearl said, "and we did not take advantage of that."