ATHENS, Ga. — Tennessee coach Rick Barnes says the homestretch of the regular season is a time to either improve or lose ground.
Barnes said Georgia is improving. He wasn’t as generous in his appraisal of his Volunteers.
Yante Maten scored 19 points and Georgia held off No. 18 Tennessee for a 73-62 victory Saturday night that denied the Volunteers an opportunity to pull within a game of the SEC lead.
“This time of year, if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse,” Barnes said. “Georgia is better than they were two weeks ago. The question is are we going to get better?”
Derek Ogbeide had 16 points and 11 rebounds and Georgia (15-11, 6-8 Southeastern Conference) won its second straight in a late attempt to return to NCAA Tournament consideration.
Tennessee (19-7, 9-5) remained two games behind No. 10 Auburn, the SEC leader, which lost to South Carolina 84-75 on Saturday. The Vols, who have lost two of their last three, were outrebounded 40-33.
“We were just out-toughed,” said Admiral Schofield, who had 11 points. “We went out there and competed tonight, but when it mattered, we weren’t there.”
Lamonte Turner led Tennessee with 14 points. Jordan Bowden had 13.
Georgia had been considered an NCAA bubble team before losing six of seven games, prompting coach Mark Fox to say some players had lost confidence. The Bulldogs still have more ground to make up in their final four regular season games, including a visit to Tennessee on March 3, but confidence should be restored following wins over Florida and Tennessee this week.
“This league is a monster,” Fox said. “You’re going to have ups and downs and we had a couple of games where we didn’t play well. They stuck together and just kept trying to get better and play the right way.”
Maten said players took an attitude of “We’re a good team, let’s go prove it. That’s what we focused on. We had to start a roll and try to get on a winning streak.”
Maten scored eight of his 19 points on free throws. Georgia outscored the Vols 27-10 at the free-throw line.
“Give them credit, they earned it, but at times we just didn’t play that smart,” Barnes said.
Tennessee’s last lead was 6-5. Georgia briefly led by double figures at 38-28 before a 3-pointer by Schofield started the Vols’ comeback.
A tip-in by Kyle Alexander cut the Georgia lead to 51-49, but the Vols couldn’t take advantage of repeated opportunities to pull even.
Tennessee: Foul trouble helped to limit Tennessee’s Grant Williams to five points, 11 below his average. Williams made only one of eight shots from the field and was held to four rebounds.
Georgia: The Bulldogs continue to struggle with their backcourt play. Tennessee’s man-to-man pressure had an immediate effect on Georgia’s half-court offense as Georgia struggled to run plays. The Bulldogs’ best success came when the guards were able to quickly pass to Maten, even if he wasn’t near the basket.
Losing two of its last three games could cause Tennessee to drop in the AP Top 25 .
Schofield briefly left the game midway through the first half when he landed hard on the court after battling for a rebound. He appeared to hold his left arm to his chest when he walked to the bench, but he soon returned to the game.
There were delays at the start of each half, each lasting several minutes, due to shot-clock malfunctions. The delays led to loud complaints from impatient fans.
TAKE A BOW
Two former Georgia standout guards were featured in promotions. J.J. Frazier bobblehead toys were given to fans, and Frazier was on hand to lead a pregame cheer. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, now with the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers, attended the game and given a tribute during a timeout.
Tennessee: Hosts Florida on Wednesday night.
Georgia: Visits South Carolina on Wednesday night.