Before they can worry about starting a new home winning streak next Tuesday, the Tennessee Volunteers have work to do as they open SEC play on the road on Saturday afternoon against a Georgia team they’ve beaten eight straight times.
Tennessee has won all three conference openers under coach Bruce Pearl.
The 15th-ranked Volunteers (9-4) had their school-record 37-game home winning streak snapped Wednesday night with an 89-79 overtime loss to Gonzaga, their first defeat at Thompson-Boling Arena since losing 80-78 to Kentucky on March 1, 2006.
The Vols held a 15-point first-half lead against Gonzaga, but the Bulldogs shot 52.5 percent against a Tennessee defense that allowed Kansas to shoot 51.5 percent in the Jayhawks’ 92-85 victory on Saturday.
Tennessee has lost back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 24 and 28, 2007. The Vols’ last three-game slide was Jan. 10-17, 2007.
“Gonzaga’s second-half shooting was the difference,” said Pearl, who is 6-0 versus Georgia since arriving in Knoxville for the 2005-06 season. “Once we got into overtime, we missed two layups and started forcing shots.”
Tennessee had its second-worst shooting effort of the season at 36.3 percent against Gonzaga. Vols swingman Cameron Tatum, though, hit 8-of-16 and scored 19 of his career-high 22 points in the first half.
“This is our season now. This is what we’ve been working for,” Tatum said of beginning conference play. “We just need to get back up in the good graces of coach and the rest of the world and show them what we can do.”
The Lithonia, Ga., native was named the DeKalb County Player of the Year twice at Tucker High School, just outside the Athens campus.
Tennessee’s leading scorer, Tyler Smith, had 17 points and seven boards against Gonzaga. Last season at Georgia, Smith posted a double-double with 12 points and 10 boards in a 74-71 win on Feb. 16.
Wayne Chism, who added 16 points and nine rebounds in that victory, is averaging 16.4 points and 13.0 rebounds in his last five games.
The junior had 15 points and pulled down a career-high 19 boards on Wednesday versus Gonzaga.
Tennessee ranks ninth in the nation, averaging 42.7 rebounds. Georgia (9-6), meanwhile, is coming off a 67-62 loss at Georgia Tech on Tuesday as it was outrebounded 53-40, giving up 23 offensive rebounds.
“They are a very good rebounding team,” Georgia coach Dennis Felton told the school’s official Web site. “We defended them awfully well and held them to 36 percent shooting. They just got too many of them back for scores.”
Freshman Trey Thompkins, who leads the Bulldogs in scoring and rebounding, had 20 points and nine boards against Georgia Tech.
Terrance Woodbury added 15 points against the Yellow Jackets. In six career games against Tennessee, the senior is averaging just 6.0 points and 4.3 boards.
The Bulldogs are 8-2 at home this season, however, they’ve dropped four straight to the visiting Volunteers. Georgia’s last home victory over Tennessee was 71-60 on Feb. 21, 2004
The Volunteers lead 87-51 in the all-time series against the Bulldogs.