KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee knew it needed to cool off the sizzling Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in order to beat Georgia.
These days, that’s easier said than done.
Caldwell-Pope, the reigning Southeastern Conference player of the week, scored 24 points and led Georgia’s 3-point onslaught Wednesday night as the Bulldogs defeated Tennessee 68-62 to win for the fifth time in their last six games.
“That’s more (about) pride on the defense’s part, not allowing their best player to beat you,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Put the ball in somebody else’s hand and let somebody else beat you. Don’t allow their best player to beat you.”
Caldwell-Pope has shot 31 of 46 (67.4 percent) — 14 of 26 (53.8 percent) from 3-point range — and has averaged 21.3 points during Georgia’s four-game winning streak.
His team is equally hot. After losing seven of its first nine games, Georgia (11-11, 5-4) has managed to salvage its season since the start of conference play. The Bulldogs have won four straight SEC games for the first time since 2003.
“The difference is we’re playing together,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We’re helping each other through adversity when we’re down, when we’re not playing well. Our defense got better. We’ve just been finishing out games.”
They also have been shooting better.
Georgia shot 11 of 20 from 3-point range against Tennessee and scored nearly half its points from beyond the arc. Georgia has shot 50 of 109 (45.9 percent) on 3-pointers over its last seven games and has gone 5-2 during that stretch. During its 2-7 start, Georgia shot 52 of 175 (29.7 percent) from 3-point range.
“Early in the year, we were probably not taking the right 3-point shots, but we always felt like we had a really good 3-point shooting team,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. “Early in the year, we were very impatient in every way, every part of the game, so we didn’t complete as many early. But it’s something where we’ve finally matured a little bit and settled down.”
Caldwell-Pope led the way by shooting 5 of 7 from 3-point range and making a big basket whenever Tennessee threatened, but he wasn’t a one-man show.
Vincent Williams was 2 of 5 from 3-point range and scored 10 points. Kenny Gaines made both his 3-point attempts and added 12 points. Nemanja Djurisic and Sherrard Brantley were a combined 2 of 4 from beyond the arc.
“We didn’t expect everybody else to shoot as well as they did,” Tennessee guard Jordan McRae said. “We knew Caldwell-Pope, he could shoot.”
McRae scored 17 points and Jarnell Stokes had 16 points for Tennessee (11-10, 3-6), which never led all night. Stokes also had 11 rebounds for his fourth consecutive double-double.
Tennessee guard Trae Golden missed his second straight game with a strained right hamstring. Tennessee forward Kenny Hall was in the starting lineup and scored six points one day after his arrest on a charge of driving with a suspended license.
Georgia led 52-43 with less than eight minutes remaining before Tennessee staged a late comeback.
Skylar McBee started the rally by sinking a 3-pointer. Caldwell-Pope answered with a layup for Georgia that made it an eight-point game with 7:19 left. Stokes then scored the game’s next seven points to cut the deficit to a single point.
Stokes began with a layup and delivered a three-point play less than a minute later. When McRae misfired on two free-throw attempts with 4:58 left, Stokes pulled down an offensive rebound off the second miss, drew a foul and hit both his free throws to reduce Georgia’s lead to 54-53.
“They stopped double-teaming down the stretch,” Stokes said. “That’s when I was able to create my own offense.”
Caldwell-Pope answered by sinking a 3-pointer with 4:27 remaining, and the Bulldogs stayed in front the rest of the way. The 6-foot-5 sophomore guard also made a game-clinching 3-pointer that put Georgia ahead 66-58 with 51 seconds left.
“Huge play,” Fox said of the Caldwell-Pope shot that ended Tennessee’s run. “Stokes is a great player. We couldn’t guard him. He’s a great player. That was a big basket for us.”
Georgia led by as many as 10 points in the first half by capitalizing on its ability to shoot the 3-pointer and Tennessee’s inability to take care of the ball. Tennessee had more turnovers (11) than baskets (seven) in the first half. Just over eight minutes into the game, the Vols had an equal number of turnovers (seven) and field-goal attempts.
“We just came out really slow,” McRae said. “It was a surprise, being a home game. Coming out slow against an SEC team, the outcome’s not going to be in your favor.”
Once the Vols stopped turning the ball over, they got back into the game.
Tennessee committed just three turnovers after halftime and tied the game 43-43 on McRae’s three-point play with 13:28 remaining. But the Vols wouldn’t score again for nearly six minutes as Georgia went on a 9-0 run.
Stokes’ late surge got Tennessee back in the game, but Caldwell-Pope made sure the Vols didn’t come all the way back.
GEORGIA 68, TENNESSEE 62
GEORGIA (11-11) D. Williams 1-4 2-2 4, Morris 0-3 2-2 2, Florveus 0-0 0-0 0, Caldwell-Pope 9-12 1-2 24, V. Williams 4-8 0-0 10, Mann 0-2 5-6 5, Dixon 0-0 0-0 0, Gaines 5-7 0-0 12, Brantley 1-1 0-0 3, Cannon 1-2 0-0 2, Djurisic 2-7 1-2 6. Totals 23-46 11-14 68.
TENNESSEE (11-10) Stokes 4-6 8-10 16, Hall 2-4 2-2 6, Richardson 4-6 0-0 8, Moore 0-4 0-0 0, McRae 4-10 9-11 17, Makanjuola 1-3 1-2 3, Reese 1-2 0-0 3, McBee 2-4 3-3 9, Lopez 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-39 23-28 62.
Halftime—Georgia 35-26. 3-Point Goals—Georgia 11-20 (Caldwell-Pope 5-7, Gaines 2-2, V. Williams 2-5, Brantley 1-1, Djurisic 1-3, Morris 0-2), Tennessee 3-11 (McBee 2-4, Reese 1-2, McRae 0-5). Fouled Out—None. Rebounds—Georgia 24 (D. Williams 4), Tennessee 26 (Stokes 11). Assists—Georgia 13 (Caldwell-Pope 3), Tennessee 9 (Richardson 3). Total Fouls—Georgia 22, Tennessee 14. A—14,876.