ATHENS — Bruce Pearl insists No. 8 Tennessee was not fooled by its lofty ranking or by Georgia’s winless start in the SEC.
Pearl said he warned his players Georgia was a dangerous opponent. The Bulldogs then showed why.
Trey Thompkins scored 21 points and Georgia led by double digits most of the way to beat Tennessee 78-63 on Saturday and end the Vols’ seven-game winning streak.
Georgia ended Tennessee’s streak of 10 straight wins in the series, including eight straight under Pearl.
“I thought we played hard,” Pearl said. “This wasn’t that we weren’t handling success. We didn’t get beat because we came in here overconfident and didn’t respect the opponent. We got beat by a better team today. It was clear.”
Georgia (9-8, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) made 7 of 12 3-point attempts to give first-year coach Mark Fox his first SEC win. Georgia’s 0-3 start in the conference included losses by eight points at No. 3 Kentucky and by four points to No. 21 Mississippi.
“It’s a big confidence-builder,” said Travis Leslie, who had several jams and 19 points, nine rebounds and seven assists as he continues to emerge as a scoring complement to Thompkins. “It was a great win and we need to keep moving on so we can get other wins like this one.”
Scotty Hopson led Tennessee (15-3, 3-1) with 19 points and was the only Vols player to make a 3-pointer. The Vols made only 3 of 16 attempts beyond the 3-point line, including 3 of 6 by Hopson, who also was the only Tennessee player to make a 3 in the Vols’ 63-56 win on Tuesday night.
“I’m just obviously disappointed,” Pearl said. “I thought we’d get much better looks against the zone. This is two straight games now that Scotty is the only guy who has made a 3-ball. When you go against a 2-3 zone, you’ve got to be able to shoot a little bit.”
Georgia took the lead for good less than 3 minutes into the game.
“Our guys deserve credit for playing well and making the plays they had to because they beat a good basketball team,” Fox said.
Georgia, which beat Tennessee for the first time since Feb. 21, 2004, had a 35-24 advantage on the glass. Thompkins, a sophomore, had eight rebounds and three steals.
“We got smashed, we got beat horribly on the rebounds,” said Tennessee’s Kenny Hall. “We were not executing, lacked poise. ... We weren’t getting stops. We were just going back and forth, and when you’re down by 20 points, that’s not going to work.”
Hall said Georgia’s dominance in rebounds was not the result of superior size.
“It was just the fact that it felt like they wanted it more,” Hall said.
Bobby Maze added 11 points and Hall had 10.
Senior Wayne Chism, who had only 6 points, launched an air ball on Tennessee’s first possession, setting the pace for a poor first half. The Vols led 4-2 before Georgia scored 12 straight points. Leslie had a breakaway reverse jam following a steal, and Jeremy Price added another jam for a 14-4 lead.
“We played very well on both ends of the floor in the first half,” Fox said. “We were fortunate to play with the lead, which made the game much easier. That first half might have been as well as we have played all year.”
Thompkins had 14 points in the first half, including a dunk to give Georgia a 40-20 lead.
The Bulldogs, backed by a rare sellout crowd of 10,523, led 42-27 at the half. It was Georgia’s first sellout since Feb. 7, 2007 against Florida and its first win over a top 10 team since Feb. 14, 2004 against then-No. 8 Kentucky.
Chism was escorted to the locker room after sustaining a hyperextended left knee with 9:22 remaining in the first half. He returned less than 2 minutes later.
Tennessee guards Cameron Tatum and Melvin Goins played for the first time since they were reinstated to the team one week ago. Pearl suspended Goins and Tatum, along with forward Tyler Smith and center Brian Williams after the four were arrested on misdemeanor gun, drug and alcohol charges during a traffic stop in Knoxville on Jan. 1.
Goins had 2 points. Tatum had 1.
Williams is indefinitely suspended. Smith was dismissed from the team Jan. 8.
The Vols were denied their first 4-0 start in the conference in 21 years.
“At some point we were going to lose a game,” Pearl said. “You know you’re going to lose a game on the road in the SEC. There won’t be a lot of people who win here. I’m certain of that.”