KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — It didn’t matter that Trae Golden leads Tennessee in scoring and is its only true point guard with regular playing time. Coach Cuonzo Martin wasn’t pleased with Golden’s defense, therefore he relegated the sophomore to the bench.
Golden responded by scoring 16 points to lead the Volunteers in their 73-62 win against Georgia on Saturday night. Whether he gets his starting job back remains to be seen.
“I just felt like Trae needed to work hard on both ends of the floor and really lead us as a point guard, not necessarily in production or points, but just his approach and intensity level on the defensive side of the ball and really taking pride in it,” Martin said.
After a back-and-forth first half, the Bulldogs held a 41-34 lead with 14:25 to play when Jordan McRae hit a 3-pointer for Tennessee . Golden sank a 3 on the next possession, and Kenny Hall followed with a pair of free throws to put the Volunteers ahead for good.
The Vols (11-12, 3-5 Southeastern Conference) used a 10-2 run to pad their lead. The Bulldogs pulled within six points in the final minute, but Tennessee went 10 for 11 from the free-throw line during the stretch.
Georgia managed to keep the Vols from getting too comfortable in the paint, but it came at a cost. The Bulldogs’ frontcourt was in foul trouble for most of the game, and starting forwards Donte Williams and Marcus Thornton had both fouled out with 4:11 left to go.
“We just were in such awful foul trouble, and that obviously was a huge factor in the game,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “We had to play a football player five minutes in the first half just to stay out of foul trouble.”
Jeronne Maymon scored 15 points for the Vols, despite constant double-team coverage. McRae added 14 points, and Skylar McBee, who made his first career start in place of Golden, added 10.
Fox was assessed a technical foul with 19 seconds left while disagreeing with referee Doug Shows about a call, and Shows ejected him after he continued to rant. Fox declined to comment about the ejection after the game.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led the Bulldogs (10-12, 1-7) with 16 points. Dustin Ware finished with 15 and Gerald Robinson scored 13 points.
The first few minutes of the game were all about Georgia.The Bulldogs hit four of their first five shots from 3-point range as they built a 16-11 lead.
Another 3-pointer by Ware gave Georgia a 27-19 lead with 5:10 to play in the first half. Ware hit all three of his shots from 3-point range to lead the Bulldogs with 13 points at halftime, but he scored just one basket in the second half.
“I think they were paying so much attention to me,” Ware said of the difference in the second half. “We were getting a lot of good things going on the inside. Gerald was open and had a lot of chances to make plays. We are just a team all about taking what the defense gives us.”
Georgia cooled off as fouls began to pile up, and Tennessee took advantage of the extra breathing room. The Vols closed out the half on an 11-1 run to take a 30-28 lead into halftime.
Golden, who had started 21 games this season, hit back-to-back jumpers to put the Vols ahead 29-27 with 2:06 left in the first half, Tennessee’s first lead of the game.
“I just have to get back to practice, work hard and get my starting position back,” Golden said. “If it doesn’t come, I’m fine with doing anything the team needs.”
The Bulldogs started the second half hot again and used a 9-2 run to take a seven-point lead.
By the end of the game Tennessee had outshot Georgia 45.2 percent to 36.4 percent, even without its usual dominance in the paint. The Vols’ ball-control struggles continued, and the Bulldogs scored 16 points off 10 giveaways.
With the victory, Tennessee avoided being swept by Georgia,which hasn’t happened since the 2001 season. The Bulldogs won the Jan. 18 meeting 57-53 in overtime in Athens but have dropped four straight games since.
The Vols have now won eight of their last nine at Thompson-Boling Arena, the lone loss a 65-62 decision to now-No. 1 Kentucky.