KNOXVILLE, Tennessee (Ticker) -- This time, Ron Slay made sure Tennessee was good enough to knock off a ranked team.
The Southeastern Conference's leading scorer, Slay scored 33 points to lead the Volunteers to a 78-72 victory over 18th-ranked Georgia.
Three times Tennessee (13-6, 5-3 SEC East) had previously come close to knocking off a ranked team, but fell short. Against 18th-ranked Kentucky on January 8, the Volunteers had a one-point lead with just over a minute left, but ended up with a 74-71 loss.
On January 22, Jon Higgins hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final 12 seconds of regulation to send a game at Georgia into overtime, but lost 81-76. Three days later, Tennessee led by as many as 10 points in the second half against Louisville, but fell, 72-69.
The Volunteers shot a sizzling 59 percent in the second half on Saturday in avenging its loss to Georgia (13-6, 5-3).
"In a way, we got over a big hump today, in that we beat a ranked team," Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said. "That is very satisfying."
Slay made 1-of-2 free throws with 2:04 left to give Tennessee the lead for good at 68-67. Brandon Crump converted a layup and Slay again hit 1-of-2 free throws to increase the advantage to 71-67 with 43 seconds left.
After Jarvis Hayes converted a layup off a rebound for Georgia with 35 seconds remaining, Thaydeus Holden made six free throws in the final 32 seconds to seal the win for Tennessee. Holden finished with 15 points.
Slay, who entered the game with a 21.2 scoring average, hit 12-of-18 shots, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. Slay scored inside and popped outside and drilled 3-pointers from the top of the key.
"I really didn't expect Slay to be 4-of-5 from the 3-point arc. He was incredible today," Georgia coach Jim Harrick said. "He shot the daylights out of the ball. We cut off his transition game, but he scored anyway."
"I was getting some open looks and I took advantage," Slay said. "I was ready to knock it down every time I got the ball."
The 33 points is a career high in a conference game for Slay, eclipsing the 29 he had at Georgia. The 6-8, 240-pound senior had a career-high 38 points in a January 4 win over New Mexico.
"It gets back to guts and heart," Peterson said. "The best teams always have good senior leadership. Ron Slay showed his focus when he came back to school this year and he brings a business-like approach to the game."
Crump matched a career-high with 16 points for Tennessee on 7-of-10 shooting.
Hayes scored 19 points and Chris Daniels had 14 points and 12 rebounds for Georgia, which outrebounded Tennessee, 38-25.
But Bulldogs' guards Ezra Williams and Rashad Wright combined to hit just 4-of-18 shots and Georgia had just six free throw attempts compared to Tennessee, which was 16-of-23 from the line.
Williams poured in 29 points in the first game Tennessee.
"We never got a call today," said Harrick, who was assessed a technical foul in the final seconds. "We outrebounded them and shot it well, but they beat us from the foul line. We haven't had a 5-for-6 night from the free throw line all year. That's a joke."
After Jonas Hayes scored inside to give Georgia a 65-63 lead with 5:10 remaining, Holden connected on a 3-pointer with 3:49 left.
But after a free throw by Slay, Damien Wilkins, who had 11 points off the bench for Georgia, hit a jumper to tie the game at 67-67 with 2:34 left.
Slay had 18 points in the first half when Tennessee held a 35-31 lead.
Georgia took its first lead of the second half, 44-43, when Williams hit a jumper with 14:12 left. The Bulldogs increased the advantage to six on a driving shot by Wilkins with 8:01 remaining.