The University of Tennessee men’s basketball team will try to regroup at home against the surging Georgia Bulldogs tonight.
The Bulldogs (13-6, 5-2) are coming into the game winning five of their last six. The Vols (14-7, 2-4) are headed in the opposite direction, limping in after losing five of their last six games.
Last week was especially tough for the Vols, losing to Ole Miss and Kentucky after relinquishing second half leads in both games. The Vols carried a 10-point lead into halftime against the Rebels only to be outscored by 28 in the second half, resulting in a 14-point loss. Sunday, UT went into Rupp Arena and held a one-point advantage on Kentucky going into halftime; however, a 20-2 run in the latter half allowed the Wildcats to cruise to a 76-57 win.
The absence of the SEC’s leading scorer, Chris Lofton, has been evident in the team’s last two losses. Lofton, who sprained his right ankle in the win against South Carolina, is not expected to play tonight.
Georgia comes into the game on more of a high note. They managed to overcome a 17-point deficit last Wednesday at home against Kentucky to send the game into overtime. The Bulldogs went on to win by nine. Sunday, they edged out LSU in dramatic fashion on a 3-pointer by Levi Stukes with less than a second left on the clock.
Tonight’s game is significant for both teams, but much more so for the Vols. Another conference loss would drop them to 2-5 in the conference, and it would dig them into a hole they might not be able to get out of considering how deep as the SEC is this season. The team says it understands the game’s importance.
“You hate to call it a must-win with so much time left in the season,” senior Dane Bradshaw said. “But it’s definitely a game we need to win to get back on track.”
Defeating Georgia at home will be no easy feat, though. The Bulldogs are playing well in all aspects of the game, especially defense. Their aggressive style is giving opposing offenses considerable trouble.
“They make it very difficult to run your offense,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. “It’s hard to get open against them.”
In addition to solid defensive execution, the Bulldogs are getting efficient offensive production from many players, including five that are shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Georgia is led by sophomore guard Mike Mercer, who is averaging 14.1 points per game; senior guard Levi Stukes, averaging 12.3 per game and junior point guard Sundiata Gaines, who leads the team with 4.8 assists per game.
In addition to the outstanding perimeter play, junior Takais Brown has played well inside as of late. The 6-foot-8 forward is now leading the team in scoring with 14.6 per game as well as rebounding with 5.6 per game.
Tennessee swept the season series with the Bulldogs last year and will look to do the same this season. Tip off is at 7:30 p.m. in Thompson-Boling Arena.