ATHENS, Ga. -- Don’t tell Marcus Thornton that Georgia’s 57-53 overtime win Wednesday against Tennessee was far from a thing of beauty.
The sophomore forward played 23 minutes in his return to the court after a knee injury forced him to sit out for the last month. Plus, his team won for the first time in SEC play.
“Anytime it’s a win, it’s beautiful to me,” said Thornton, who had one rebound, one assist and one steal, though he did not attempt a shot. “It’s nerve-wracking to watch, but I’m just so glad we were able to get out there and fight and get a win against a rival like Tennessee.”
Neither team led by more than five points as their offenses stumbled for the first 37 minutes of regulation. They went to overtime tied at 46-all after Georgia guard Gerald Robinson hit the game-tying layup and Donte Williams rebounded Tennessee guard Trae Golden’s attempt at a game-winning basket with 1 second remaining.
Robinson and Williams later teamed up on perhaps the key play in overtime, when Robinson attracted two Volunteers defenders as he drove baseline and he hit a wide-open Williams under the basket. Williams converted the layup to put Georgia up 54-53 and was fouled by Cameron Tatum on the play.
“The man was coming over to help, so I had two men on me and I knew somebody had to be open,” said Robinson, who had a team-high 16 points, six rebounds and five assists. “Donte flashed real big and I was glad I was able to get it to him. I was glad he was able to finish.”
Williams missed the free throw, but Georgia freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope grabbed the offensive rebound, helping extend the Bulldogs’ possession. Although they did not score, they ran another 20 seconds off the clock as they clung to the lead.
Robinson and Caldwell-Pope combined to go 3-for-4 from the foul line in the final 26 seconds and Caldwell-Pope had another key rebound with 14 seconds left, helping Georgia finish on a 5-0 run. Tennessee had taken a 53-52 lead on Skyler McBee’s 3-pointer with 2:11 to play.
With the win, the Bulldogs improved to 10-8 overall and 1-3 in SEC play.
“It was the most important thing,” said Williams, who finished with 11 points and eight rebounds. “We didn’t want to dig ourselves deeper into a hole, so it was very important to get a win today.”
The Bulldogs also held an SEC opponent to less than 50 percent shooting for the first time in four games.
Alabama, Florida and Vanderbilt all topped the 50 percent mark and the Bulldogs’ inability to get stops played a role in their wilting down the stretch in each of those losses. Tennessee (8-10, 1-3 SEC) shot 40 percent (22-for-55) from the field, including 13 percent (2-for-15) from 3-point range, and 50 percent (7-for-14) from the line.
Those missed opportunities added up in the Volunteers’ narrow loss.
“It seemed like we kept on trading baskets at the end,” Williams said. “But overall, I thought our defense was better than the previous three games, so I think we’re getting better. I just hope we carry it onto the next game.”
The Bulldogs host Ole Miss (12-6, 2-2) at 4 p.m. Saturday, fresh off the Rebels’ 75-68 home win against No. 15 Mississippi State on Wednesday.
“[Wednesday’s win] gives us a big momentum, but Saturday’s a new day, a new game, so we’ve just got to come out and play hard for 40 minutes more,” Williams said.