ATHENS — Georgia basketball served up a measure of Rocky Top revenge on Wednesday night, its brightest star shining brilliantly.
Anthony Edwards scored a game-high 26 points in the Bulldogs’ 80-63 victory over Tennessee at Stegeman Coliseum.
A near-capacity crowd of 10,313 was on hand to see Georgia (11-5, 1-2 SEC) win its first league game of the season in impressive fashion over the Vols (10-6, 2-2).
“Just like football, just like football!” the Georgia fans chanted at the respectable showing of orange-clad fans.
Appropriately enough, UGA football icons Kirby Smart, David Pollack and Matthew Stafford were all in attendance.
The victory is symbolic of Coach Tom Crean’s impact in just his second season, the Bulldogs featuring nine freshmen players.
“These are really, really young guys, (and) we can’t leave anything to chance of what they’ve got to learn,” Crean said, “and then they have to go out there and perform.
“It was a great victory.”
The Vols beat Georgia by a 96-50 count last season, but that was then, and now Crean has the Bulldogs playing on another level.
Edwards was the next-level player who made it happen on Wednesday.
The “Antman” hit his second 3-pointer of the night at the 13:12 mark of the first half to spark an 8-0 run that put Georgia up 16-12. The Bulldogs didn’t trail the remainder of the game.
UGA led by as many as 23 points, with Rayshaun Hammonds scoring 21 points.
“Last year that was my worst loss ever in my life,” Hammonds said. “I wanted to get a win, no matter what.
“We just wanted to put our foot on their neck and play our game.”
The Bulldogs did just that.
Georgia held a 47-28 lead at the half, up by as many as 22 points at the end of a 13-0 run just before intermission.
Tennessee couldn’t get closer than 16 points in the second half.
“I’m disappointed in just about everything you can be disappointed in,” Vols’ coach Rick Barnes said. “I didn’t think we had a competitive fight or spirit at all, even from the beginning.”
Edwards scored 20 of his points in the first half on 6-of-10 shooting, also pulling down five of his rebounds.
The Bulldogs were significantly shorter than Tennessee, yet still managed to win the boards through the first 20 minutes, 20-17.
UGA held its own on the boards in the second half, too, each team pulling down 17 rebounds over the final 20 minutes.
“Our defense made our defense better, (and) you always want it to be that way,” Crean said. ” We challenged shots better, we got our hands up better, our switching was better, and we were able to win the glass.”
Another big factor was the movement and flow of the ball, as Georgia settled into rhythm early against a Vols team that seemed out of sorts.
The Bulldogs had 12 assists and just 10 turnovers, seizing control early and leading for 35 of the game’s 40 minutes.
Georgia returns to action at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday at Mississippi State (TV: SEC Network).
The status of Georgia freshman point guard Sahvir Wheeler has yet to be determined.
Wheeler appeared to suffer a right ankle injury with 9:23 remaining and did not return to the game.