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Vols nip Bulldogs at buzzer in SEC duel

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ATHENS -- Brian Williams is no longer a starter for Tennessee.

He sure knows how to finish, though.

Now coming off the bench, Williams hit the biggest shot of his life in improbable fashion, somehow managing to put back a buzzer-beater as he was falling down to give Tennessee a 59-57 victory over Georgia on Tuesday night.

"Like Kobe," Williams said, beaming. "The one-footed fadeaway."

He wasn't nearly as graceful as Kobe Bryant, winding up on his backside as the shot went in. Then he took off for the locker room, dragging along several teammates.

"I just wanted to go to the locker room so the fans wouldn't kill me," Williams quipped.

He wasn't quite done yet, returning to the court while the officials checked the replay to confirm the ball left his hand before time ran out. It did, leaving the sellout crowd too stunned to do anything while Tennessee whooped it up again on the way to the locker room -- this time for good.

Playing without suspended coach Bruce Pearl, the Volunteers (12-6, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) pulled out the wild win after Tobias Harris badly missed a 3-pointer from the corner.

With overtime looming and the clock nearly at zero, Williams went up for the rebound as Georgia's Chris Barnes attempted to box out, muscled the ball away and put it back in.

"I've hit only one game-winner in my whole life, and that's when I was a child," Williams said. "I'm just glad it was good."

Then, he screamed, "That's gotta be a SportsCenter Top 10!"

Georgia (13-4, 2-2) lost at home for the first time this season, stumbling after a 22-point win at Mississippi last weekend.

"That was a difficult loss," coach Mark Fox said. "Tennessee made more plays than we did. They made one more, for sure. There are going to be a lot of battles in this league."

Harris and Scotty Hopson led Tennessee with 15 points apiece, while Williams added 10. The win was especially sweet for the senior center, who was serving a nine-game suspension last season for a New Year's Day arrest when the Vols took a 15-point loss in Athens.

"They destroyed us in every aspect in that game," Williams recalled, wincing at the memory.

This season, he started 14 of the first 15 games, then was replaced in the lineup by another senior, John Fields. Instead of pouting, Williams seems to be relishing his new role. With the game on the line, he was the one on the court.

"All the credit goes to Brian," said associate head coach Tony Jones, filling in while his boss watched the game on television back in Knoxville. "He sees what his role is. He's coming off the bench now. He's on the second unit. ... He obviously relished that role tonight."

Williams worried that he might get whistled for going over Barnes' back to yank away the errant shot, but the officials let it go.

"I guess he was supposed to box me out," Williams said. "I'm surprised they didn't call a foul. I saw the shot coming down, and I just put it back in. I'll take this with me the rest of my life."

Travis Leslie and Gerald Robinson each scored 14 points to lead Georgia, which shot only 43 percent from the field and was held to its second-lowest scoring output of the season, just three days after its highest, a 98-76 rout of Ole Miss.

"We played really good defense," Leslie said. "They were just lucky enough to grab that last rebound and throw it in. It just happened to fall."

The game was tight all the way, the margin never more than seven points for either team. There were 11 lead changes and nine ties.

Tennessee played its fourth SEC game without Pearl, who is halfway through the league-imposed suspension he received for lying to NCAA investigators during an ongoing probe into recruiting.

The suspension only applies to SEC games, so Pearl will be back on the bench for Saturday's contest at Connecticut. Then he'll sit out four more league games to complete his punishment.

His son, Tennessee backup Steven Pearl, was left to endure the wrath of the Georgia students when he entered the game. "Where's your daddy? Where's your daddy?" they chanted.

Georgia had slipped out of The Associated Press rankings after a one-week stay, its first appearance in the poll since 2003. Now, the Bulldogs have lost two of three since upsetting Kentucky to open league play.

After a sluggish, turnover-plagued start, Georgia appeared set to pull away when Sherrard Brantley hit a 3-pointer that pushed the home team to a 28-21 lead.

But Skylar McBee responded with a 3 of his own, sparking a 14-2 run for the Volunteers. They were still up 35-33 at the break, despite getting called for an odd team technical with 19 seconds left, apparently for someone touching the ball in the cylinder.

Tennessee protested, claiming a Georgia player actually got a finger on it, and there was a lengthy discussion among all three officials before Trey Thompkins was awarded two free throws.

But Thompkins, Georgia's leading scorer at 17.9 a game, wasn't much of a factor. He made only 4 of 13 shots and finished with 13 points.