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Tennessee's Yves Pons holds on to the ball after grabbing a rebound during the first half of Wednesday night's game at Georgia. / AP photo by Joshua L. Jones

ATHENS, Ga. — The Tennessee Volunteers' problems Wednesday night on the basketball court at Stegeman Coliseum didn't stem solely from the latest transformation of their roster.

It wasn't as simple as the Vols attempting to infuse 7-foot-1, 240-pound redshirt freshman Uros Plavsic into the rotation after the NCAA ruled him immediately eligible for competition a day earlier. It wasn't just the first-half explosion from talented Georgia Bulldogs freshman guard Anthony Edwards, who poured in 20 of his 26 points in the game's first 20 minutes.

Georgia ran away from Tennessee — and when the Vols caught up, the faster, more talented Bulldogs ran around them.

The outcome? A lackluster 80-63 loss for the Vols that dropped them to 10-6 overall and 2-2 in the Southeastern Conference ahead of Saturday's game at Vanderbilt (8-8, 0-3). Georgia, which opened league play with back-to-back losses to Kentucky and Auburn after an upset victory at Memphis — which beat Tennessee last month — improved to 11-5.

"I didn't think we had a competitive fight or spirit at all. Even from the beginning," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "I know we struggle to score, but missed shots at the rim, you have to score those. Defensively we weren't very good; we didn't put up the fight we normally do, and that's what's most disappointing."

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Georgia's Anthony Edwards shoots in front of Tennessee's Davonte Gaines during Wednesday night's SEC matchup in Athens, Ga. The host Bulldogs won 80-63. / AP photo by Joshua L. Jones

Tennessee was in scramble mode from the opening tipoff. Georgia went on an 18-4 spurt to build a double-digit lead, largely led by Edwards, who hit four first-half 3-pointers.

The more glaring difference between the teams was their speed. On two occasions after Tennessee made baskets, the Bulldogs beat the Vols downcourt for easy layups. Those led to the home team's early lead as well as Tennessee's first-half foul trouble, with senior Jordan Bowden and John Fulkerson each saddled with two fouls by intermission.

That led to Barnes trying any combination on the floor in hopes of finding one — just one — that worked. None did, to the point that the Vols' final five of the first half included four freshmen — Josiah-Jordan James, Drew Pember, Plavsic and Santiago Vescovi — and junior Yves Pons.

Plavsic finished his first game as a Vol with five points in 17 minutes, but mainly he looked every bit the part of the project he was expected to be entering this season. He wasn't strong with the basketball, having it taken away from him a couple of times, but he made his first basket on a nice post-up move that led to a wide-open layup in the first half, then hit an impressive-looking left-handed hook shot over a defender in the second half.

It was a promising performance for a guy who has played just 29 games of American basketball, all at the high-school level.

"Everybody is now finding their role on the team and what they need to do," said Plavsic, who is from Serbia and played at Chattanooga's Hamilton Heights Christian Academy. "We just need to get back and work hard on that."

Bowden somewhat worked his way out of his recent slump, shooting 5-for-12 after going 9-for-54 in his previous four games. Pons — he and Fulkerson have been the team's most consistent performers this season — had eight points and eight rebounds.

The combination of Edwards and Rayshuan Hammonds, who finished with 21 points, was simply too much offense for Tennessee. The speed of graduate transfer guards Donnell Gresham Jr. and Sahvir Wheeler, combined with Edwards, was too fast for the Vols.

The past six games for Tennessee have featured four different active rosters, though — senior guard's Lamonte Turner's exit for season-ending shoulder surgery and the addition of Vescovi and now Plavsic led to the changes — so it's like starting all over.

Again.

"We've just got to hit the ground running with this group," said James, who finished with 11 points, four rebounds and three assists. "We've faced a lot of adversity this year, losing our leader (Turner) and guys moving into different roles.

"We didn't start the way we wanted to, but we're going to fix everything we didn't do right tonight."

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.

 

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