Wiedmer: Vols let one slip away in Athens

Wiedmer: Vols let one slip away in Athens

January 19th, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - College

ATHENS, Ga. - The Basketball Hall of Fame may never request a video of Georgia's 57-53 overtime victory over Tennessee inside the Bulldogs' Stegeman Coliseum.

That tends to happen when the winning team shoots 35 percent from the floor, the losing team turns the ball over 20 times and the two squads combine to miss 30 of 34 3-pointers.

Just don't try telling the winners that their first Southeastern Conference victory of the year in their fourth league contest wasn't suitable for framing.

"Anytime you get a win," said Bulldog sophomore forward Marcus Thornton after his first game back from knee surgery, "It's beautiful."

The most beautiful thing about this game was that the five-minute overtime period gave the 7,307 fans in attendance a chance to forget the futile 40 minutes that had gone before it.

Those two 20-minute halves had ended in a 46-46 tie that would only have looked acceptable in grainy black and white footage with peach baskets -- the bottoms not yet cut out -- nailed to poles on either end of the floor.

Otherwise, there was no excuse for what took place over the first 31 minutes and 34 seconds, Georgia clinging to a 35-32 lead.

But then UT freshman Jarnell Stokes stole a pass at midcourt, drove to the basket, made the shot and was fouled. Then he made the free throw and the Vols and Dawgs were tied at 35-all.

Less than a minute after that, Stokes was at it again, making a wicked spin move across the lane on his way to a reverse layup with his left hand. Suddenly the Big Orange led 37-35.

At this point along press row, SEC Network color commentator Joe Dean Jr. turned to his play-by-play man and exclaimed, "Mercy, Dave Neil."

And it was impressive what this Stokes kid was doing less than two weeks after turning 18 and joining the Vols right out of high school.

Nor does UT coach Cuonzo Martin intend to slow his progress or downplay expectations for the prep All-America.

Speaking of Stokes -- who finished with 11 points, eight rebounds, a steal, a block and an assist in 26 minutes -- and fellow big body Jeronne Maymon (12 points, eight rebounds): "Those two work well together. The next phase is to get them together in practice more."

But once UT hiked the lead to 40-35 with 5:58 to go on a Stokes dunk, everything turned.

Senior guard Gerald Robinson scored eight of the Bulldogs' final 10 points in regulation. Freshman center Nemanja Djurisic got a 3-point play the old-fashioned way.

And after calling timeout with 13 seconds left, UT watched sophomore point guard Trae Golden's jump shot bounce long.

So now it came to overtime, which surely brought a groan from any television execs concerned about ratings, since almost anyone who wasn't a Bulldog or Vols fan had surely turned off their television by then.

In fact, if this had been "American Idol," both the Vols and Dogs would have been sent packing.

Still, the rules state that someone has to win in basketball. Ties aren't allowed. So Georgia ended up with four more points than UT in the extra period, its win highlighted by an extraordinary hustle play from Djurisic, who blocked Golden's jumper on one end, picked up the ball and drove the length of the court, then finger-rolled in a layup for a 52-50 lead.

Skylar McBee's lone 3-pointer of the night briefly returned the advantage to the Big Orange, but then Georgia scored the game's final five points to improve to 1-3 in the SEC and 10-8 overall as the Vols fall to 8-10 and 1-3.

"I thought we did a good job of defending," said Martin. "Maybe the best all year. But 20 turnovers without a lot of pressure being applied; that can't happen."

At least not if you intend to win on the road in the SEC.