KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The bright lights were shining on Tennessee men’s basketball in Thompson-Boling Arena like never before, and the Vols responded.
Tennessee won a share of the SEC regular-season championship with a 66-61 victory over Georgia before a sellout crowd of 22,237 Saturday afternoon, closing the game on a 9-0 run.
The No. 16-ranked Vols (23-7, 13-5) will be the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament next week and begin play in St. Louis at 7 p.m. ET Friday against the winner of No. 7 seed Mississippi State and No. 10 seed LSU.
It was the first time in the 30-year history of the arena that the Tennessee men’s basketball team won an SEC Championship-clinching game in the building.
“Not bad for a team that was picked to finish 13th this year,” coach Rick Barnes said amid a postgame celebration at half court emceed by athletic director Phillip Fulmer. “These guys deserve all the credit, so give it to them.”
Admiral Schofield scored 23 points to lead Tennessee, and Grant Williams scored 22 points and pulled down 3 rebounds before fouling out with 3:33 left.
Georgia’s Yante Maten, a favorite to win SEC Player of the Year, scored 18 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Maten didn’t score in the second half until there was 5:17 left in the game.
Auburn beat South Carolina 79-70 earlier in the afternoon to clinch the SEC Tournament No. 1 seed and a share of the SEC regular-season championship.
The Vols, however, were still playing for a piece of history, having not won the SEC since 2008, when Bruce Pearl was their coach.
Tennessee was also looking to snap a five-game losing streak to Georgia that dated to 2014.
Georgia led for more than 31 minutes in the game. Tennessee didn’t take its first lead in the second half until Lamonte Turner buried a 3-pointer with 6:22 left to make it 55-53. The teams traded the lead three more times, with the Bulldogs going up 61-57 on a Maten 3-pointer with 3:10 left.
The Vols closed the game on a 9-0 run from there. Georgia missed a last-gasp 3-point attempt by William Jackson ll in the final seconds.
Georgia held a 42-34 lead at halftime, capitalizing on 7-of-12 (58.3 percent) shooting beyond the arc and Maten’s 12 first-half points on 4-of-6 shooting.
The game was stopped four times for replays in the first 20 minutes, the referees working hard to stay in control of the game. Both teams came out intent on establishing themselves in the paint, leading to plenty of physical boxouts while mixing in the occasional elbow and shove.
Tennessee opened with 5-0 lead but Georgia responded with a 9-0 run, and the Vols weren’t able to reclaim the lead until Turner’s second half 3-pointer.
Barnes calms crowd
The Tennessee crowd lost its mind when Williams fouled out with 3:33 left. Barnes went to midcourt to address the crowd saying: “Hey, hey we’ve got plenty of time; do not throw anything on the floor.” Williams’ foul came after Georgia’s Derek Ogbeide pulled down a rebound and fell over Williams, who was on the floor after battling for the board.
Georgia entered the game ranked 13th in the SEC in 3-point field-goal shooting (.318), but the Bulldogs were dialed in from long range early and often Saturday night. Georgia was 7-of-12 (.583) shooting the 3-ball in the first half. Tennessee’s previous three opponents were a combined 11-of-67 (.640) shooting-3 pointers. Georgia cooled in the second half, however, going 0-for-6 in the final 20 minutes
Barnes’ biggest crowd
Tennessee renovated Thompson-Boling Arena following the 2006-07 season, adding skyboxes and reducing seats. Saturday’s crowd was the second largest in the 11 years since then. The list: 1. Gonzaga 22,326 (1-7-2009); 2. Georgia 22,237 (3-3-2018), 3. Vanderbilt 22,172 (3-3-2012), 4. Alabama 21,948 (2-5-2011); 5. Kansas 21,936 (1-10-2010).