ATHENS - It looked like it was going to be a very memorable first SEC game for Howard "Trey" Thompkins, Georgia's prized freshman.
The Bulldogs led No. 15 Tennessee by 10 approaching the midway point of the second half and Thompkins already had 14 points to match his season average.
But Thompkins, rarely touching the ball, didn't score the rest of the game and Georgia went into a late-game funk of dramatic proportions.
Still up by a point with 3:17 to play, the Bulldogs let Tennessee score 13 straight points and lost 86-77 on Saturday at Stegman Coliseum.
"We didn't finish the deal," said Bulldogs coach Dennis Felton, his voice reduced to a whisper afterwards. "Down the stretch, we had some panicky possessions."
It appeared that Tennessee (10-4) was ripe for an upset from the opening second, with the Vols forgetting which was their basket and being called for an over-and-back violation on the opening tip.
But the Bulldogs (9-7) couldn't take advantage, again blowing a lead after not being able to hold a 13-point edge in the second half against rival Georgia Tech on Tuesday.
"It's disappointing," said Thompkins, a Parade All-American who led Wesleyan to the Class AA state championship last season. "This showed that we have the ability to play with anybody. But we have to learn how to close it out."
Thompkins scored Georgia's first six points of the second half and added another basket as the Bulldogs went on a 22-7 run to take a 54-44 lead with 12:26 remaining.
Tennessee began chipping away at the deficit, however, as Thompkins went from the focal point of the Georgia attack to the invisible man.
"They were trying to get it to me," Thompkins said of his teammates. "Tennessee adjusted its defense and starting doubling with a man behind me. Plus Tyler Smith began playing even better defense."
Tennessee took the lead back on a driving basket by Smith at 4:22, but Terrance Woodbury regained the advantage for Georgia with two foul shots at 3:09.
Then disaster struck for the Bulldogs.
Tennessee went on its 13-0 run, with Georgia not scoring until Parkview graduate Ricky McPhee, a transfer from Gardner-Webb, hit a 3-pointer with five seconds remaining. It was by far too little too late.
"This was a must win game for us," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "I know it is early in the year, but this was a road win that we really had to get."
Smith, who had been on crutches the previous two days after bruising his left knee during a loss to Tennessee on Wednesday, led Tennessee with 24 points and 11 rebounds. He had 15 of his points and seven of his rebounds in the second half.
"We did not gameplan for him to play," Pearl said. "Guys in his shoes normally take some time off, but not Tyler Smith.
Georgia look the last few minutes off, and it cost the Bulldogs.
"When you let up, they don't stop," said Woodbury, who led Georgia with 18 points.
"We got rattled a little bit," Bulldogs point guard Zac Swansey said.
Georgia committed 17 turnovers and was out-rebounded 48-35. Tennessee had 22 points off the Bulldogs' miscues and added 21 second-chance points.
"It was the same things that bit us against Tech and Missouri," said the 6-foot-9 Thompkins, who finished 7-for-12 from the floor and had nine rebounds. "It was turnovers and rebounding."
Felton was even more concerned with the rebounding than the turnovers after the Tennessee loss.
"What was a question mark after the Tech game was an explanation point today," the coach said.
"Rebounding continues to be a weakness we need to fix."
Georgia played three freshmen extensively, with Thompkins, Dustin Ware and Travis Leslie combining for 31 points. But it is obvious that the Bulldogs still have a lot of growing up to do, especially at the end of games.