KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Talk about a much-needed win.
Jeremy Price scored 20 points and Travis Leslie added 15 as Georgia took control early, relented briefly in the second half, and hung on to post a key 69-63 victory over Tennessee here Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs also got double-figure scoring from Trey Thompkins (11 points) and Dustin Ware, whose 12 points included four decisive free throws in the final 39 seconds. Georgia (18-8, 7-5) won in Knoxville for the first time in 10 years.
The Bulldogs also took a significant step in the race for a top-two finish in the SEC Eastern Division before traveling to Florida next week for a Thursday night game.
"That was a really good win for our program and our team. I am proud of our kids. They really competed hard and kept battling to win the game," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "Ténnessee has a terrific team and Hopson is a great, great player. We probably would not have taken that option if you had given it to us. The hard part for us is we could not afford to get in foul trouble. We did not want to be in that situation, so we got a little bit tentative - so much that Hopson just laid it in sometimes. But we tried to make everything hard and we made none of it hard."
Leslie and Ware keyed an early surge for the Bulldogs, who took their first double-digit lead at 17-7 on a Leslie foul shot with 11:58 left in the opening half. The Georgia lead reached its largest at 30-16 on a dunk by reserve forward Chris Barnes at the 3:15 mark.
Tennessee junior Scotty Hopson, who scored a career-high 32 points on the day, jump-started a Tennessee comeback in the second half. He scored nine of his team's first 11 points in the period as the Volunteers trimmed their deficit into single digits in the first five minutes.
A steal and layup by Melvin Goins with 11:39 left put Tennessee ahead for the first time of the half at 45-43. Goins, however, was whistled for a technical foul for hanging on the rim, and two Thompkins foul shots that ensued achieved the game's third tie. The two teams traded leads twice more before two free throws by Price at the 7:32 mark got Georgia the lead for good at 49-48.
Georgia began to pull away in the final minutes, leading by as many as seven inside the final four minutes, before Hopson keyed another late run by the Volunteers. His dunk with 42 seconds left trimmed the margin to 63-61 before Ware secured the Bulldogs' victory by sinking a pair of free throws.
The win was the Bulldogs' seventh on hostile courts this season, the most for a Georgia team in 16 years.
"We have made progress as a program and these young guys have matured," Fox said. "In order to have success on the road, it is truly because you have good players - guys who have bought in. And that is the reason this year, too."
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