Guard Trae Golden on the Georgia game
Trae Golden, Tennessee's leading scorer and assist man, didn't get the start against Georgia on Saturday night.
But the Vols got the win, and Golden and his teammates got the point: Play defense and work hard, or sit the bench.
"It definitely lit a fire under me,'' said Golden, who scored a team-high 16 points in Tennessee's 73-62 men's basketball victory against the Bulldogs (10-12, 1-7 SEC) before a crowd of 19,379 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
UT (11-12, 3-5) improved to 3-0 in games coach Cuonzo Martin has changed the starting lineup this season.
"It (lineup change) may have had a ripple effect,'' said junior Jeronne Maymon, who had 15 points and eight rebounds.
Martin didn't mince words when asked about benching his sophomore point guard.
"I just felt like Trae needed to work harder on both ends of the floor and really lead us as a point guard,'' Martin said. "Not necessarily in production or points, but just his approach and intensity level on the defensive side of the ball and taking pride in it.''
Junior Skylar McBee, who got his first career start and ran the point at the onset, finished with 10 points.
"Growing up and being a Tennessee fan before I was ever a player, it's special, '' said Grainger County's McBee, who came off the bench in his first 86 games after beginning his UT career as a walk-on. "But it's really not about who starts; it's about five guys playing together and being a unit.''
Jordan McRae came off the bench to score 14, while freshman Jarnell Stokes was held to five points while gathering nine rebounds.
Georgia dropped its fourth game in a row, and Bulldogs coach Mark Fox was ejected with 19 seconds left after being assessed consecutive technical fouls for arguing with official Doug Shows.
Martin, conversely, seldom changed his expression, even when Georgia scored the first seven points of the second half to grab a 35-30 lead on Donte' Williams' hook shot over Stokes.
The Vols rallied, reclaiming the lead on a pair of Kenny Hall free throws that made it 42-41 with 13:14 left.
UT didn't trail again, taking command when Cam Tatum hit a 3-pointer with 7:41 left to ignite a 10-2 run that made it 58-49 with 4:11 remaining. The Bulldogs failed to draw closer than six for the rest of the game.
"We still have a burp or two that we have to get past,'' Fox said. "They made some 3-point baskets that they probably haven't been making the last couple of weeks.''
UT was 7-of-22 shooting from three, but perhaps more importantly, the Vols made 28 of 37 from the free-throw line including 13 of 15 over the final five minutes.
Maymon hit nine of his 12 attempts, often getting to the line thanks to Golden's passing. Golden's five assists were his most since having six in a 60-57 win over Connecticut on Jan. 21.
Golden, who averaged 7.3 points and one assist his previous three games, entered the action at the 13-minute mark of the first half. Once Golden settled in, the Vols clicked, going on an 11-1 run to close out the first half to take a 30-28 lead into intermission.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope led Georgia scorers with 16 points, and Dustin Ware had 15.
UT returns to action Wednesday (TV: MyVLT, 8 p.m.) against South Carolina (9-13, 1-7) in Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Gamecocks are coming off an 86-52 loss to No. 1 Kentucky in Columbia, S.C., on Saturday and have dropped three in a row and seven of their past eight.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32