The Georgia men’s basketball team’s first Southeastern Conference win of the season won’t go down as a work of art, but the Bulldogs will gladly take it after working overtime to beat Tennessee on Wednesday night.
It included a fired-up coach Mark Fox throwing his jacket and getting whistled for a technical foul when Tennessee seemed to have the momentum shifting its way.
It included both teams struggling to muster points during stretches and some sloppiness, but Georgia made the plays it needed in the extra sessions to grab the 57-53 victory at Stegeman Coliseum.
“We felt like we needed to win bad,” said Georgia sophomore center Donte’ Williams, who scored 11 points and had eight rebounds.
Georgia (10-8, 1-3 SEC) got in the win column after losses to Alabama, Florida and Vanderbilt to start conference play.
“Our players weren’t hung up on the slow start,” Fox said. “We played really good teams and are going to play more good teams. … It certainly feels good to get the first league win.”
The teams combined for 36 turnovers and 4 of 34 shooting from 3-point range.
Georgia went ahead for good in overtime when Williams scored on an inside feed from guard Gerald Robinson with 1:03 left for a 54-53 lead.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope grabbed the missed free throw after Williams couldn’t complete a three-point play.
Williams missed in the lane with 39.8 seconds left and a jump-ball possession went to Georgia.
Robinson hit both ends of a one-and-one with 26.4 seconds left for a 56-53 lead.
After a Trae Golden miss on a drive, Caldwell-Pope grabbed another rebound with 12.5 seconds left and was fouled He missed the first, but hit the second for the final points.
“I thought both teams played with great intensity defensively,” said Fox, whose team won back-to-back games against Tennessee for the first time since 2001.
The Volunteers (8-10, 1-3) upset Florida in Knoxville and lost to No. 2 Kentucky by three there on Saturday, but fell to 0-5 on the road under first-year coach Cuonzo Martin.
Georgia got its first win in 2012. The Bulldogs’ last victory came on Dec. 30 against Delaware State.
“We showed our will to win tonight,” Robinson added. “We knew we had to fight. We missed a lot of easy shots, especially around the bucket, so our main focus was to just stay in the game.”
Georgia held the lead until 11:02 left in regulation, but there would be five lead changes total before overtime.
At times it was an ugly game befitting two teams scrapping in the lower division of the SEC.
“This game really showed the character of both teams to battle and play through some adverse moments,” Fox said. “I was proud of my team for continuing to fight forward.”
Fox just threw his jacket after confronting officials and got teed up after arguing with 7:09 left during a media timeout after no foul was called after Williams had a shot blocked.
Golden made just one of the two free throws and the Vols lead was 38-35 and it grew to 40-35 with 5:56 left.
A three-point play from Neme Djurisc with 4:58 left cut the lead to 40-38.
Robinson’s driving layup on the left side tied the game with 18.3 seconds left in regulation and Golden (16 points) dribbled down the clock and missed with three seconds left and missed a shot and the game went to overtime.
“I thought Gerald played like a senior late,” Fox said of the guard who led Georgia with 16 points and five assists and had six rebounds. “He made some key plays down the stretch.”
Jerrone Maymon (12 points) put Tennessee ahead 48-46 with 4:33 left in overtime scoring inside, but Djurisic hit a pair of free throws to tie the game again.
Williams grabbed a rebound and scored on a two-handed jam and a block from Djurisic (11 points) and a scoop layup for a 52-50 lead with 2:30 left, but Skyler McBee hit a 3-pointer with 2:10 left to retake the lead 53-52.
Caldwell-Pope couldn’t answer with a 3-pointer on the other end, but Tennessee lost the ball out of bounds with 1:15 left in the overtime and Georgia regained the lead en route to the win.
Sophomore forward Marcus Thornton returned to action for the Bulldogs for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee after injuring it on Dec. 23 against Furman.
He missed five games, including the first three SEC games. He did not score in 23 minutes of action, but Fox called his return “a huge boost to our team” on the defensive end.
Asked if he had any hesitation to play Thornton, who met with a doctor on Tuesday, Fox said: “Zero. Have you seen our team defend without him? He’s a key part of our team.”
Tennessee shot 40 percent for the game. Georgia hit just 34.9 percent
Georgia returns to SEC play Saturday at home against Ole Miss.