Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox admits he was feeling a little low when he arrived back from Nashville early Thursday morning following the Bulldogs' one-point loss at Vanderbilt.
But at approximately 6 a.m., he received a surprising message - from Bulldog football coach Mark Richt.
"He said two words - Waffle House," Fox said. "So, we met at the Waffle House
he shared a lot of his thoughts about how proud he was of my team, how we had been in every game for the past six weeks and had a chance to win every one of them. He just tried to encourage us to get back off the mat and fight again."
Saturday afternoon, that's just the Bulldogs did, overcoming a slow start to roll past Tennessee 78-68, snapping the Volunteers six-game winning streak before a Stegeman Coliseum crowd of 9,346.
"It was a great win. We got our confidence back," freshman guard Charles Mann said. "Tennessee is a heck of a team and this win put us back on track. It felt good to have a large margin at the end of the game."
No question about that.
In Georgia's previous four games, the final minute of regulation had been anything but routine for the Bulldogs (14-15, 8-8), including their most recent loss to Vanderbilt which won a last-second shot.
There were no dramatics this time around as the Bulldogs led by as many as 14 points in the final minute before settling for the 10-point victory, sweeping the regular-season series between the two SEC rivals.
"We've been playing hard, but we've had to find different ways to finish games," sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic said. "Today, we were really able to get that done."
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope continued his stellar play.
The Bulldog sophomore poured in 25 points and grabbed a team-high nine rebounds, while freshman guard Charles Mann enjoyed the best game of his young career, scoring a career-best 18 points with eight assists and zero turnovers. He was also 12 of 14 from the free throw line.
"(Mann) is becoming a great player. He is getting better at practice every day," Caldwell-Pope said. "It felt good that we managed to hold (Tennessee) down."
Georgia certainly finished the game stronger than it began.
The Bulldogs turned the ball over six times in the first four-plus minutes. But from that point on, Georgia only committed three.
"When we started the game we had six fouls in the first five minutes, I said that's the last time Mark Richt talk to our basketball team," Fox said. "But we got back focused and we competed and I was real proud of our basketball team and I was proud of our crowd. We beat a good basketball team that is fighting to get into postseason play and they should get into post-season play. This is a great win for Georgia."
Defensively, Tennessee's Jordan McRae exploded for a career-best 35 points, but the Bulldogs stymied double-figure scorers Trae Golden and Jarnell Stokes, holding them to 4 and 8 points, respectively.
"They (Georgia) did a good job on ball screens. Also, they sagged off a couple of other guys and forced them to make plays, and that's not their strength right now so give Georgia credit," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "I felt like we didn't get the shots we were looking for, but give Georgia credit defensively. When you don't get production from Trae and Jarnell, it's going to be a long night for you."
With the loss, Tennessee fell to 17-11 overall, 9-7 in the SEC.
Caldwell-Pope and Mann weren't the only players who came up big for the Bulldogs.
Freshman Tim Dixon hit a couple of big baskets, as did freshman guard Kenny Gaines, who overcame a bone bruise injury to hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second half to help stymie a couple of Volunteer surges to get back into the game.
"This group is growing," Fox said of his team. "For five or six weeks, we have had a chance to win every game. You're not going to win every game until you learn some valuable lessons so it was important for us to get off the mat."
NOTES: Caldwell-Pope remains one of just 11 players in all of NCAA Division I that have scored in double figures in each of their team's games. He's the only SEC player to accomplish this feat and one of just five from the "BCS" leagues to do so.
Georgia plays it last home game on Thursday when Kentucky come to town. Kentucky leads the all-time series 115-25 and has won three straight over the Bulldogs.
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