Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl played spin the dial by using yet another different starting lineup Wednesday night.
It landed on “Big Win.’’
The Vols, using their seventh different starting lineup this season, trailed Georgia 29-24 at halftime. They were “a little rusty” with two point guards on the floor at the same time, according to senior Bobby Maze.
But Pearl’s plan clicked in the second half, and 20th-ranked Tennessee pulled out a 69-60 win before a crowd of 18,086 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Georgia (11-13, 3-8 SEC), dominant in a 78-63 victory over UT in Athens earlier this season, used a 12-2 run to muscle its way to the five-point halftime lead against the Vols (19-6, 7-4).
“After a sluggish first half, with no chemistry, I asked them if they enjoyed playing together,’’ Pearl said, asked about his halftime chat. “I answered the question for them: ‘Hopefully not. We didn’t do anything, we didn’t screen, cut, move or pass.’
“The big thing was to come out the second half and play better team basketball.’’
Tennessee, led by Wayne Chism’s 16th career double-double (16 points, 11 rebounds), responded.
Chism, who tied Rob Jones (1983-86) for most games played at UT with 130, scored on the Vols’ initial second-half possession to get things started. UT hit seven of its first nine shots over the final 20 minutes to take a 39-37 lead at the 15:30 mark.
It was Maze, who had 13 points and four assists, going coast-to-coast to give the Vols their first advantage since the 13:23 mark of the first half.
“It was just a matter of us making the adjustment to the lineup,’’ said Maze, who made his first start at shooting guard with Melvin Goins at the point. “We all understood how huge this game was after losing two in a row.’’
The Bulldogs, who haven’t won in Knoxville since 2001, battled back behind Trey Thompkins’ 25 points and 10 rebounds.
There were two ties and two lead changes after Maze’s coast-to-coast drive before Maze stepped up again, hitting a 3-pointer with 8:14 left to spark what proved to be a decisive 10-0 run.
Prince, who made his first start of the season at power forward, was pivotal down the stretch, scoring all 15 of his points in the second half including a three-point play and an alley-oop dunk in the 10-0 spurt.
Hopson, who scored 10 points and matched his career-high with six rebounds after starting on the wing, closed the run with a put-back basket to make it 59-50 with 6:10 left.
With Vols junior post Brian Williams clogging the lane in his first significant action (18 minutes) since returning from a nine-game suspension, Georgia struggled to get the ball inside to Thompkins down the stretch and failed to draw closer than five points the rest of the game.
“It was a pretty gutsy win,’’ Pearl said. “There was a lot of pressure on the kids with the schedule the way it is, knowing how few home games (two) we have left and the tough road ahead.’’
The Vols next home game is against Kentucky on Feb. 27 before they close their regular season home schedule with a March 3 game against SEC West Division leader Arkansas.
The Vols return to action Saturday at South Carolina (TV: WVLT, 1:30 p.m.), followed by a trip to Florida (17-8, 6-4) on Tuesday.
The Gamecocks (14-11, 5-6) dropped a 92-79 decision to the Razorbacks Wednesday night, but are 11-2 at home including a win over No. 2 Kentucky. The Gators play host to Auburn tonight.