ATHENS, Ga. — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had provisions. Jordan McRae had problems.
The former scored 25 points on Saturday. The latter 35.
“I mean, we lost, so the personal stuff doesn’t mean much,” McRae said, slumped against a Stegeman Coliseum wall, his hot hands tucked deep into the pockets of a Tennessee basketball jacket.
Then there was Caldwell-Pope. The star sophomore from Georgia gladly said, “It felt good that we managed to hold (Tennessee) down.”
McRae, making 10 of 15 shots and eight of 11 3-pointers, being the lone exception.
That made all the difference.
Caldwell-Pope was joined by 10 teammates in the scoring column, including 18 points from backcourt mate Charles Mann, in a 78-68 win over the Vols.
McRae’s fellow Vols finished 12-of-42 from the field. Kenny Hall was the only other UT double-digit scorer, adding 10.
Caldwell-Pope’s reinforcements made 17 of 38, adding 15 made free throws.
“We didn’t get a good flow on offense,” said UT coach Cuonzo Martin, who saw his team’s six-game winning streak end and its NCAA tournament hopes squeezed. “I thought right out of the gate we had trouble with our movement and spacing and thought we were standing around quite a bit.”
That defined a first half that saw Tennessee (17-11, 9-7 SEC) score 22 points,
thanks to 14 from McRae, and shoot 29.6 percent.
But the Vols only trailed 25-22.
“Sometimes you come out flat,” McRae said. “It’s a part of the game.”
The second half magnified the gulf in balance and productivity.
As UT searched for a second scorer, the Bulldogs poured in 53 points after halftime.
Caldwell-Pope was responsible for 17 of them, but nine of 11 Georgia players scored after the break.
Tennessee still had its chances.
A McRae 3-pointer gave the Vols a 41-40 lead with 12 minutes left in the second half. Pockets of orange scattered through Stegeman made their voices heard.
It wouldn’t last.
Georgia (14-15, 8-8) responded with a 6-0 run, taking back control, and later stretched its lead to 12 with 2:56 left on a 3-pointer by Kenny Gaines.
Gaines, who was a game-time decision with a heel injury, also converted a three-point play with 1:26 left after back-to-back 3-pointers from McRae trimmed the lead to 64-58.
McRae sat for the game’s final moments, fouling out after 39 minutes.
Georgia’s 78 points were the most allowed by UT in regulation since Ole Miss scored 92 points 16 games ago.
“They’re human and they were playing well, you won six in a row and you’re excited about what you’re doing,” Martin said. “It happens.”
Sending as many as three defenders at Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes, Georgia wrung out the Vols’ offense. Stokes scored eight points, four less than his season average, on seven shots in 31 minutes.
“The thing about it is, we’ve got to get Jarnell the ball,” McRae said. “Jarnell can’t have eight points and us win. It’s just not going to happen.”
No player languished against the Bulldogs as much as point guard Trae Golden, who spent much of the second half with his head hung low on the bench. Foul trouble and errant shooting marred his afternoon. The Georgia native was held without a point until the final minute of the game, making a free throw followed by a late 3-pointer to finish with four points on 1-of-10 shooting.
“They deserved to win,” Golden said, adding, “They seem to get us every year.”
Saturday was the second loss handed to UT by Georgia this season. The Bulldogs, 68-62 winners in Knoxville on Feb. 6, were the last team to beat the Vols before their winning streak.
Now UT, tied with Arkansas for sixth place in the SEC standings, will look to start a new one. A trip to Auburn awaits Wednesday night (TV: CSS, 9 p.m.) before Missouri visits Thompson-Boling Arena in next Saturday’s regular-season finale.
“We lost the basketball game to a team that played well on its home court,” Martin said. “You move forward.”
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn.