Kenny Gaines celebrates a big shot that helped the Dawgs win. - USA TODAY Sports
In front of one of the better Stegeman Coliseum crowds of the year, the Hoop Dawgs controlled most of the game against Tennessee and cruised to a comfortable 10 point win to get back to a .500 conference record (8-8).
Led by Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and freshman guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines, Mark Fox's squad led Cuonzo Martin's Volunteers for almost all of the final 30 minutes Saturday.
Led by Midway, Ga.'s Jordan McRae, Tennessee jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead in Stegeman Coliseum, hoping to keep their tenuous NCAA Tournament bubble from bursting. McRae, along with former Redan HS big man Kenny Hall, were the only Vols to score in double digits, with McRae going off for what feels like a season-high allowed 35 points on 10 of 15 shooting and 8 made 3s.
Georgia had a career day of it's own out of a backcourt player, with Charles Mann scoring a career best 18 points off the bench, to go along with 8 assists, 4 rebounds, and 2 steals. The 6'4 freshman out of Milton did most of his damage driving the lane, drawing fouls, as he went 10 of 12 from the free throw line in the second half alone.
Fellow Atlanta area freshman, Riverdale native Kenny Gaine, joined Mann in having a big second half, scoring all 9 of his points in the last 20 minutes, including 2 big 3s that kept Georgia's lead comfortable as Tennessee kept closing the margin.
The Vols made run after run, with each one being answered by the Dawgs, throughout the game. McRae hit a big 3 with 12 minutes remaining to give them their final lead of 41-40. But Fox called a timeout, and Georgia quickly answered with a dunk from sophomore Tim Dixon, as Georgia steadily built their lead from that point on.
Sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was, of course, the Dawgs leading scorer on the day, providing 25 points, along with 9 rebounds, 4 steals, 2 assists, and a block for another all-around dominant day. Most of the game was dueling banjos between KCP and McRae, but in the end, Georgia came out on top to run their season record to 14-15, and likely destroy any hopes Tennessee had of making the big dance.
Much of the damage came off the bench, and in the paint, as Georgia's subs outscored the Vol's backups 41-13, and the Dawgs finished with a 30-14 advantage on points in the paint.
Fox's Hounds home slate ends with Senior Night honoring Sherrard Brantley, John Florveus, and Vincent Williams on Thurday evening at 7, when they host another NCAA bubble team in Kentucky. The regular season then ends Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa before the SEC Tournament in Atlanta beginning Wednesday the 13th. If the Dawgs have any illusions of a possible NIT bid, they'll likely need to win both games.