ATHENS, Ga. — If it turns out Tennessee's basketball season amounts to anything, the Vols will look back on this one and groan.
In fact, don't hold back. Go ahead and groan now.
Road wins, especially SEC road wins, are a precious commodity. They're sometimes measured in kruggerands.
For 40 minutes Wednesday night, however, Georgia was offering one for the taking.
"Go ahead, help yourself," the Bulldogs seemed to be saying, brick after brick, turnover after turnover.
"Nah, we're good," replied Tennessee, answering a brick with a brick, a turnover with a turnover.
Its hospitality refused to the point of overtime, Georgia was insulted enough to just go ahead and win the darn thing.
Thus, Georgia's 57-53 victory goes in the book as a blown opportunity for the Vols, who are still in search of their first road win of any kind under coach Cuonzo Martin.
Since SEC play began, Tennessee is a model of consistency. It plays to the level of its competition ev
For three games against ranked teams— Florida, Mississippi State and Kentucky — the Vols were scrappy on defense and reasonably efficient on offense.
They proved they can play up a notch. Now UT has proved it can play down a notch.
Georgia reported to venerable Stegeman Coliseum 0-3 in SEC play. And for good reason. The Bulldogs aren't exceptional at anything since last year's stars, Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, abandoned Athens for the NBA.
Even in its own diminished state, this was relatively low-hanging fruit for Tennessee. The Vols had won six of their past seven visits to Stegeman and under three different coaches, Buzz Peterson, Bruce Pearl and Tony Jones.
Martin will have to wait and try again next year.
"This game really showed the character of both teams,'' said Georgia coach Mark Fox. "We both played really hard.''
It also showed the deficiencies of both teams.
The Vols shot 40 percent from the field. On a night when one more basket, one more free throw even, would have delivered the goods, they could not produce.
They were 2-of-15 from 3-point range and had several good looks in the waning minutes of regulation. If that's forgivable, a season-low 50 percent (7-of-14) at the free-throw stripe isn't.
"That's one we needed,'' said junior guard Skylar McBee. "We played well enough defensively to get the win.''
Fair enough. Georgia looked as if it had never seen its own rims, shooting 34.9 percent from the field and 2-of-19 beyond the arc. So a pat on the back for Tennessee's defense.
But the Vols were dreadful at the other end of the court.
"It's tough when you turn the ball over like that,'' said Martin. "You don't give yourself a chance to win.''
They turned it over 20 times. They dropped passes out of bounds and threw passes out of bounds.
Martin said Monday turnovers were his biggest concern. Brother, he wasn't kidding.
When Jarnell Stokes scored seven points in an 8-0 UT rally the Vols looked up and had a 40-35 lead.
"I thought the game was in our hands,'' said point guard Trae Golden.
We've already established it was a bad night for Tennessee's hands. The Vols turned it over on two of their next four possessions and it was 40-40 again.
Regulation ended 46-46. There was no Brian Williams with a buzzer-beating rebound basket this time when Golden's off-balance shot missed the mark.
UT led 50-48 in overtime, then a Golden turnover set up Georgia's basket to get even.
A McBee 3-pointer shocked both teams and gave UT a 53-52 lead. The Vols got a stop and a chance to go for the jugular. Instead a Cameron Tatum turnover opened the door for Georgia.
The Bulldogs cashed in with a four-point possession that featured two offensive rebounds and that, it turned out, was that.
It was all over but the groaning.