Georgia basketball stumbled on the road at Tennessee on Wednesday night, falling to the No. 15-ranked Vols by an 89-81 count.
The Bulldogs (12-7, 5-7) trailed by as many as 23 points with 10:53 left (65-42) en route to the loss that snapped their 3-game win streak.
But Georgia showed fight, battling to get the lead down to 6 points with 1:03 left against Tennessee (14-4, 7-4) on a KD Johnson drive that made it 79-73.
“We came back with a fierceness,” Tom Crean said. “We were much better in the second half. We have to understand …. our margin for error is not real high.
“We have to play with force for 40 minutes and we have to play aggressive for 40 minutes. In the second half, we played a lot faster with less turnovers.”
Johnson led the Bulldogs with a career-high 22 points — 20 of them coming in the second half, and 12 in the final five minutes.
UGA used a 9-0 run between the 9:36 and 7:45 marks to get the lead down to 13 points at 67-54 on a Tye Fagan dunk.
The Bulldogs kept going to the rim down the stretch, scoring on drives and hitting layups to work the game back into single digits before going to a full-court press to trigger the final run in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee freshman Jaden Springer scored a game-high 30 points, hitting 9 of 11 shots including 3 of 4 from beyond the 3-point arc.
The Vols, playing without reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Year Yves Pons, hit 51.9 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from 3-point range.
Georgia post player Toumani Camara had 14 points on 5-of-7 shooting along with his team-high 8 rebounds.
The Bulldogs struggled to run their offense, however, as UT shaded point guard Sahvir Wheeler to his left side, rendering him ineffective most of the night.
Wheeler, who entered the contest fourth in the nation in assists, scored 11 points and had 5 assists, but he was just 4-of-11 shooting and he committed 7 of the Bulldogs’ 18 turnovers.
Tennessee, which entered the game leading the nation in defensive efficiency, held Wheeler to just 2 first-half points in jumping out to a commanding 44-26 lead at intermission.
The Vols closed the first half on an 18-5 run on the strength of its 3-point marksmanship.
Josiah-Jordan James, Keon Johnson, Victor Bailey, Santiago Vescovi and Springer all drained threes over the final 8 1/2 minutes with Tennessee a red-hot, 8-of-15 beyond the 3-point arc through the first 20 minutes.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, struggled to get off clean looks in their half court offense. Georgia was just 10-of-29 shooting from the field (34.5 percent) and committed an eye-popping 11 turnovers.
The Bulldogs return to action at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at No. 11-ranked Alabama (16-5, 11-1 SEC).