The Southeastern Conference standings made that painfully clear.
Gerald Robinson scored 16 points and Georgia overcame poor shooting to outlast Tennessee 57-53 in overtime on Wednesday night.
Georgia (10-8, 1-3 SEC) won despite scoring only five points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. The Bulldogs made only 34.9 percent of their shots from the field.
“It was very important,” Robinson said. “We didn’t want to get ourselves in an even deeper hole in the SEC. You have to protect home court.”
After ending a three-game losing streak, Georgia has two more home games against Mississippi and Kentucky.
Skylar McBee’s only basket, a 3-pointer, gave Tennessee (8-10, 1-3) a 53-52 lead with 2:11 remaining in overtime. After a missed jumper by Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a turnover by the Vols gave Georgia another chance with 1:15 remaining.
Donte Williams scored with 1:03 remaining to give Georgia a 54-43 lead, and was fouled by Cameron Tatum on the play. Williams missed the free throw but Caldwell-Pope grabbed the rebound. Robinson’s two free throws with 26.4 seconds remaining pushed the lead to three points.
“We showed our will to win tonight,” Robinson said. “We knew we had to fight. We missed a lot of easy shots, especially around the bucket, so our main focus was to just stay in the game. This was a more gritty game, and we were able to come out on top.”
Caldwell-Pope, who leads Georgia with his average of 14.5 points, was held to nine points, but he had four steals and six rebounds, including the crucial rebound after Robinson’s missed free throw.
“Kentavious got a real big rebound to give us an extra possession,” Robinson said. “That helped us pull out the game.”
When it was difficult for the Bulldogs to find an offensive flow, Williams said the key was “Just keep your cool and play hard. … We knew we had to beat this team.”
Williams and freshman Nemanja Djurisic each had 11 points for Georgia.
The Vols, hurt by 20 turnovers, took only the fourth loss in their past 18 games against Georgia.
“We’ve got to take care of the ball and give ourselves a chance,” said Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin. “With so many unforced turnovers, it was hard to compete at the level we wanted to, especially considering how we played defensively.”
Trae Golden led Tennessee with 16 points. Jeronne Maymon had 12 and freshman Jarnell Stokes had 11 in only his second college game.
Tennessee did not lead in the first half but finally took advantage of Georgia’s poor shooting after the Bulldogs led 27-24 at halftime.
Georgia rallied after Tennessee led 40-35 with 5:53 remaining in regulation.
“I definitely thought we had the game in hand,” Golden said. “A couple turnovers and things like that hurt us in the end.”
Golden said the Vols’ turnovers, which led to 17 points for Georgia, were “really disappointing.”
The game was tied at 44-44 before Golden’s short jumper gave the Vols the lead.
Robinson tied the game again by driving down the baseline for a layup with 17 seconds remaining. After the teams traded timeouts with 13.2 seconds remaining, Golden missed a shot from the wing with about 1 second left. Georgia called a timeout with 0.6 seconds left, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed a half-court shot to send the game to overtime.
Stokes, the 6-foot-8, 250-pound freshman forward who signed with Tennessee on Dec. 23 and had his first practice on Jan. 9, had eight rebounds.
Georgia received a boost to its front line with forward Marcus Thornton’s return from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Thornton made his first appearance since hurting the knee on Dec. 23. He did not score and had one rebound in 23 minutes.
“Marcus made a huge impact for us defensively,” said Georgia coach Mark Fox. “He hasn’t been able to play or even practice in a month, but he really made some key plays for us. We didn’t know he could play until (Tuesday) when he went to the doctor, but there was zero hesitation in our decision. We needed him on defense.”