So much has gone right for Georgia during a season that included its first top-25 ranking in eight years and more than its share of close wins.
Tennessee forwards Tobias Harris (12) and Tennessee John Fields (25) wrestle with Georgia’s Trey Thompkins for a loose ball during the second half Tuesday.
The flip side came Tuesday night.
Tennessee center Brian Williams’ putback beat the buzzer and left Georgia beaten, 59-57, in a sold-out Stegeman Coliseum.
The 6-foot-10 Williams went over 6-8 Georgia forward Chris Barnes for the rebound and put in the game-winner after forward Tobias Harris came up short on a shot from the corner.
While Tennessee players ran down to celebrate near the Georgia bench, Bulldogs’ fans wanted a foul called on Williams on the play, but didn’t get it.
"The ref didn’t make the call," Barnes said. "At a critical time like this in the SEC, you’re not going to get that kind of call in the league. We know that. We’re going to accept the loss and go into our next game with our heads held high because we still have a winning record."
Georgia (13-4, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) lost for the first time in nine home games this season and its 12th in the last 13 games to the Volunteers.
"If I got a chance to call it, I’d call it over the back just because I want to win," said Georgia forward Trey Thompkins, who had 14 points on a night he made 4 of 13 field goals. "They didn’t blow the whistle, so it wasn’t a foul."
Tennessee (12-6, 2-2) won its second straight conference game while its coach Bruce Pearl served the fourth game of an eight-game SEC suspension for lying to NCAA investigators.
Pearl was back home in Knoxville, but can coach the Volunteers’ game Saturday at Connecticut.
Gerald Robinson and Travis Leslie led Georgia with 14 points each, Scotty Hopson and Harris had 15 apiece for Tennessee.
The largest lead of the game was seven points by Georgia in the first half and the biggest lead of the second half was four when Tennessee led 47-43 with 7:58 to play.
The game included 11 lead changes and nine ties the last at 57-57 after Dustin Ware’s 3-pointer with 59 seconds to play tied the game.
"It was an SEC East game, it was a battle," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "That’s what a league game is. We just didn’t make enough plays. They made one more play than we did."
After Ware’s 3-pointer, Hopson drove on the left side, but missed, and Tennessee kept possession after it grabbed a tipped rebound and called timeout with 27.8 seconds left.
The Volunteers spread the court and Hopson helped worked the clock down as Tennessee got it to Harris behind the 3-point line.
"That’s our go-to play with Tobias and Scotty running the pick-and-roll," said Williams, a senior from New York who had 10 points off the bench on 5 of 6 shooting. "Scotty had the option to shoot it, go to the rack of throw it back out to Tobias. My job is to rebound and I’m glad they didn’t call a foul on that."
At the suggestion that Williams may have been over the back on Barnes, Fox paused for nearly 10 seconds before saying: "I’ll have to watch the tape. Sorry."
Fox said Georgia did almost everything like he wanted with the shot clock off at the end.
The Bulldogs got a stop. They forced a miss. They blocked out.
"We just didn’t get the rebound," he said.
Georgia was outrebounded 34-28 on the night and the most costly ones came in the final minute.
"We’re a good rebounding team, but tonight they got more of them then we did," Fox said. "They made more plays than we did. That’s the bottom line."
Georgia won 13 of its first 16 games by pulling out games just like this – one-point win at Georgia Tech, two-point wins against UAB and St. Louis and a three-point win against Manhattan.
"It hurts because we want to be No. 1 in our conference," Thompkins said. "These type of games are exactly how it’s going to be for the rest of the year. We’re just going to have to saddle up and regroup."