After leading by as much as 14, Tennessee collapsed five minutes into the second half.
The Vols (14-11, 6-6 SEC) lost a heart-breaker to Georgia (14-11, 5-7 SEC) on Saturday, despite 30 points from freshman forward Grant Williams.
Here’s five observations from Tennessee’s 76-75 loss to the Bulldogs:
Another Lead Blown
Tennessee led 53-39 with just over 15 minutes to go in the game. Then everything changed.
Georgia went on a 21-7 run to tie the game with 8:21 remaining. 11 of those points were scored by point guard J.J. Frazier.
Frazier had 20 points in the second half, enough to propel the Bulldogs to victory late in the game. 15 of those points came in the final 15 minutes alone.
This is the fifth double digit lead Tennessee has blown this season, and the second in a week. Tennessee didn’t shoot the ball well in the final minutes of the second half, scoring just 22 points in the last 15 minutes.
This was Tennessee’s first big blown lead at home, which is concerning heading into mid-February. This loss forces UT to steal a game late this season in order to give themselves a chance at the NCAA Tournament. But a home loss against a 13-11 Georgia team certainly doesn’t help.
“A lot of the time we’re just not executing,” Grant Williams said. “We’re either turning the ball over or we’re not moving hard on offense. We just get complacent. J.J. (Frazier) did a good job.”
Frazier had 28 points against Tennessee last season and 29 on Saturday. He was asked if Tennessee does anything specifically he can take advantage of offensively. His answer: “They’ve been beating us.”
For the second straight season, Frazier’s second half made the difference.
“My will to win. I just want to win games, and I think that trickles down through our team. Whatever I have to do to win a game, I will,” Frazier added.
Rick Barnes agreed.
“J.J. Frazier was terriffic,” Barnes said to open his press conference. “He had 29 points but he also had six assists. He accounted for a lot of their points. He took the game over even though before that happened I thought at the end of the first half we didn’t finish very well.”
Williams Continues to Become Tennessee’s Star
Freshman forward Grant Williams scored in double figures for the seventh straight game on Saturday.
He reached that mark in the first half.
Georgia didn’t have an answer for Williams all night, especially when forward Yante Maten got into foul trouble. Even when the Bulldogs made their 21-7 run midway through the second half, Williams had five of those seven points.
“He just has a will to score,” Kyle Alexander (6 points, 9 rebounds) said. “Tonight was another one of those special nights for him.”
From the beginning of the game, Williams was Tennessee’s answer for Georgia’s 2-3 zone. The freshman knocked down two easy mid-range jumpers to open the night, eventually forcing Mark Fox to switch to man-to-man. Williams only finished the game with four rebounds, but he played one of his best offensive games in his first year at Tennessee.
He finished with 30 points on 10-of-16 shooting. The rest of the team was 16-for-46.
Williams, however, expected more.
“Game-high 30 (points) but three turnovers and I missed four free throws,” Williams said after the game. “We lost by one, so I’m really critical of myself. I don’t really care about how much I score, I just want to win the game.”
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) February 11, 2017
Normally a slow starter, Williams was dominant for all 40 minutes of this game, scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the opening twenty minutes.
That’s the effort Barnes said he needs more of in the first half. Grant William’s emergence as a superstar in the SEC will start to open up looks for the rest of Tennessee’s roster. Unfortunately, his 30 points weren’t enough to propel Tennessee to victory on Saturday, but teams will have to start double-teaming him down on the low block.
Robert Hubbs only had 10 points on 3-of-13 shooting. Jordan Bowden was 3-for-8 from the field but 0-of-4 from 3-point range. This loss hurts, but if Tennessee can get more production from those two guys, the Vols can get back to their winning ways.
Missed Call Hurts Comeback Attempt
With roughly six seconds left in the game, Lamonte Turner’s 3-point attempt to cut the lead to one was just off the mark, but it looked like a Georgia player may have altered the shot over the cylinder.
— Brad Logan (@BradLoganCOTE) February 11, 2017
“It was a goaltend,” Barnes said plainly.
“You can’t hit the ball when it’s over the cylinder. The ball was definitely being touched. It was a big play, the clock should’ve been stopped with 7.6 seconds or something like that.”
Despite his team’s bad luck late, Barnes didn’t put the loss on the officials by any means. He blamed the loss on Georgia’s hot shooting.
“You still have to score another basket. No one’s had tougher luck than Georgia this year…they’ve had more bad bounces than anyone in the country. 51.8 % field goal percentage defense pretty much says it all.”
Williams Takes Blame Despite Career High
Grant Williams was the star of the game for Tennessee, but afterwards blamed himself for the one-point loss.
“It’s a lot more bitter than it is sweet,” Williams said. “The points didn’t really matter that much to me. I really wanted to win and not getting (a win) really hurt.”
Leading by two, J.J. Frazier drove to the basket with 21 seconds left and made a basket plus the foul. It was Williams who committed the personal foul.
“They killed us on ball screens…even when we were there they were knocking down some tough shots. J.J. hit a huge one at the end of the game where I shouldn’t have fouled him…I take this loss on me because I could have led this team a lot better.”
There’s not much more Williams could have done. The freshman only missed six shots. But he took this loss harder than anyone else.
Barnes came to his freshman forward’s defense.
“Grant needed more help on the offensive end,” Barnes added. “He’s beating himself up pretty good about missing a free throw there at the end, but that’s not why we lost the game. We lost the game because Georgia shot 52%.”
Williams’ mentality needs to spread through the team. Tennessee’s complacency in second halves this season could be prevented by applying Williams’ attitude to every phase of the game. Fans should be excited about Williams’ future as a Vol, given his toughness on an off the court.
Alexander couldn’t believe that Williams tried to put this loss on himself.
“Yeah he can’t do that. We all told him that he can’t put the blame on himself. I can’t imagine someone scoring 30 points and saying it was their fault. This is a team loss tonight.”
On to Kentucky
Up next for Tennessee: a Tuesday road trip to Lexington.
Following Saturday’s loss, the matchup with the Wildcats is even more important for Tennessee’s tourney hopes.
“We’ve grown together, it’s been a whole year,” Williams said. “It’s close to March and we have another huge game against Kentucky. They’re just as young as us and they don’t blow these leads.”
Facing Malik Monk will present Tennessee with similar challenges it was faced with against J.J. Frazier. Alexander says that defensively the Vols must improve in order to get a win at Rupp Arena.
“Ball-screen defense, we definitely have to work on that,” Alexander said. “Us big guys have to take on more responsibility of containing when we’re on ball-screen defense.”
Final stats pic.twitter.com/416R2teeo4
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) February 11, 2017