Tennessee scored an easy 79-48 win over Georgia to pull into a four-way tie atop the SEC Eastern Division Wednesday night.
The Vols (15-8), Florida, South Carolina and Kentucky are all 6-3 in SEC play.
“I think it’s significant,’’ UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “We’re one game into the other side of halfway through (the SEC portion of the schedule) and we’re tied for first.’’
“We’re still in position to do what we want to do, but it’s going to be a battle every single night, and the strong is going to survive.’’
The defending SEC champion Vols were clearly the stronger team from the onset of Wednesday’s game, leading from start to finish.
An announced crowd of 18,623 at Thompson-Boling Arena looked on as UT dominated throughout.
Tennessee played smothering defense on the Bulldogs (9-15, 0-9), forcing an SEC season-high 25 turnovers — 17 coming in the first half.
Tyler Smith scored 15 points despite suffering from flu-like symptoms to lead five Vols who scored in double figures.
Wayne Chism had 13 points and five assists, Scotty Hopson had 12 points, J.P. Prince scored 11 and had a team-high and career-high nine rebounds and Brian Williams had 10 points and five rebounds in 13 minutes.
“A 30-point win in the SEC is huge, so this is a real good win,’’ Williams said. “Our fans have been there for us all year, and I think tonight we were able to give them a treat.’’
Georgia’s Trey Thompkins was the only Bulldog to score in double figures with 10.
“It’s tough to see Georgia go through what they are obviously going through right now,” said Pearl, referring to former Bulldogs coach Dennis Felton being fired two weeks ago.
“It’s one of the challenges of changing coaches five games into the SEC season,’’ he said. “It’s really hard on the kids, and it’s really hard on their staff. I hope they can hang in there.’’
Georgia couldn’t Wednesday night.
The Vols held a 40-23 lead at the half on the strength of 47.1 percent shooting and 17 turnovers by the Bulldogs. Smith and Chism had 11 apiece through the first 20 minutes as UT controlled the lane, outscoring Georgia 26-8 in the paint.
Prince said the Vols weren’t about to let up in the second half.
“We’re most proud of how we started the second half, because we hadn’t been doing that so well,’’ Prince said. “We were focused tonight, we needed that game and we weren’t taking anything for granted.’’
The Vols return to action at 3 p.m. Saturday (TV: WVLT) when they play host to Vanderbilt (15-8, 4-5). Kentucky plays at Arkansas, South Carolina is at Alabama and Florida is at Georgia.