After starting the season 0-3 in Southeastern Conference play, Georgia sophomore Donte Williams said Wednesday night's contest against Tennessee was one the Bulldogs had to win - no ifs, no ands and no buts.
Cue the collective exhale.
Although the game was ugly by most definitions, the outcome couldn't have been much sweeter for Mark Fox's victory-starved squad which outlasted the Volunteers in overtime 57-53 before a Stegeman Coliseum crowd of 7,307.
"Losing three straight, we had to get this one because we would have been in a hole," Williams said. "We had to come together - anyway we could - to try and get this win."
No, it wasn't pretty. Georgia only shot 34.9 percent from the field (22-of-63) and made just two of its 19 three-point attempts.
But Fox wasn't complaining.
"This game really showed the character of both teams," Fox said. "Each team really had to battle and overcome some adverse moments, but I was proud of my team for continuing to fight forward."
Gerald Robinson Jr. led the Bulldogs (10-8, 1-3) with 16 points, followed by Nemanja Djurisic and Williams with 11 each.
Trae Golden topped Tennessee (8-10, 1-3) with 16.
"We've got to take care of the ball and give ourselves a chance," said first-year Vol coach Cuonzo Martin, whose Tennessee squad tuned the ball over 20 times. "With so many unforced turnovers it was hard to compete at the level we wanted to, especially how (well) we played defensively."
Up 27-24 at the half, the Bulldogs - as has been their tendency - started the second half ice cold as Tennessee opened on a 6-2 run.
Considering the way Georgia was playing, it was no wonder.
After an early bucket, the Bulldogs went 10 straight possessions with seven turnovers and zero points before scratching back to go up 31-30 on a basket by Djurisic.
Later, the Vols would go up 40-35 but the Bulldogs battled back again tying the game at 40 and later on a drive by Robinson to even the score at 46 with 18.3 seconds remaining.
Following a timeout with 13.2 left, the Vols went for the final shot but missed with just 0.6 on the clock. The Bulldogs were able to get a desperation heave from Connor Nolte to Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but the shot was well short of its mark, sending the game into OT.
In the overtime, a three-pointer by Skylar McBee with 2:11 put Tennessee up 53-52 with 2:11 left.
But that would be all the points for the Vols on this night.
A layup by Williams with 1:02 remaining put Georgia up by one before two free throws by Robinson and one from Caldwell-Pope with 12 seconds left iced the game.
"We showed our will to win tonight," Robinson said. "We knew we had to fight. We missed a lot of easy shots, especially around the bucket, so our main focus was just to stay in the game. This was a more gritty game, and we were able to come out on top."
Robinson wasn't kidding about that.
The first 20 minutes was anything but pretty, although the Bulldogs still managed to head to the locker room with a 27-24 lead..
Robinson topped Georgia's first half effort with eight points and never trailed although Tennessee did tie the game at 19 with 6:33 left, before the Bulldogs tallied eight of the final 13 points, six courtesy of Robinson.
Otherwise, the Bulldogs struggled from the field.
Georgia only shot 34.4 percent (11 for 32), including just 1-for-9 from 3-point range with the lone trey coming courtesy of Dustin Ware for the game's first points.
Although he didn't score, the first half also marked the return of sophomore forward Marcus Thornton who played for the first time in five games after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery following an injury Dec. 23 against Furman.
"It's definitely been frustrating but you try to be the best teammate possible, do the best that I can and try to be another coach on the sideline," said Thornton. "I just tried to do whatever I could."
Thornton, who played 23 minutes in his return, said he's still not 100 percent.
"There's no such thing as being 100 percent out there," said Thornton. "You've just got to suck it up and not be a baby about it."
NOTE: Georgia returns to action Saturday afternoon when the Bulldogs entertain Ole Miss. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.