About half of the fans were cheering for the Lady Vols and they gave the team a standing ovation after Andraya Carter dribbled out the final nine seconds on the clock, slammed down the ball and broke into a huge smile.
The Tennessee players gathered in front of their bench, turned to the sections of orange-clad fans, pointed at them and raised their arms in thanks.
It was a win Tennessee needed after the season opening loss at Chattanooga, a defeat that left coach Holly Warlick disappointed and the players in shell-shock as they left the court.
The team regrouped Saturday in Atlanta, had an upbeat practice session and took Warlick's advice to play for themselves and enjoy the process.
The result was a fast start, led by the scorching shooting of Cierra Burdick, who set career highs for points with 16, made field goals with six and made treys with three. The hesitation she showed on the court in Chattanooga was replaced with an offensive mindset, and the Lady Vols took a 30-19 lead on her third made three-pointer in the first half at the 5:50 mark.
"We did a great job," Warlick said. "We scored when we needed to and we were really patient with our offense. The veterans did a great job of setting the pace and really hustled today."
Burdick, while just a sophomore and a role player last season, is considered one of those veterans. Warlick also depended on freshmen, including moving two into the starting lineup in guard Andraya Carter and post Bashaara Graves.
Carter, who is from nearby Buford, Ga., had her own cheering section of former high school teammates, family and friends.
"I was a little nervous before the game today," Carter said. "I have a great team and a lot of support in the stands. I knew they were behind me all the way. I just couldn't ask for a better experience than the time I've had at Tennessee."
That time has been short, but Carter has already made an impact. She played 36 minutes because of her ability to defend and handle the Yellow Jackets' pressure.
Graves notched a double-double with 18 points and 12 boards with seven on the offensive end. She feasted on teammate misses and also added four steals on the defensive end.
Carter handled Tech's pressure on her own, scooting up the sideline and helping to get Sydney Wallace in foul trouble as she was whistled for two within the first minute of the game and logged just eight minutes before the break.
"I think when Sydney Wallace picked up two fouls in the first minute of the game, I think that threw our complete game plan off," Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said.
"So much of what we do against the zone is predicated around her so obviously we need to look at that and make some adjustments."
Tennessee shot 43.2 percent in the first half - led by Burdick at 6-6 and Graves at 7-12 who combined for 29 points in the first 20 minutes - and took a 45-30 lead into the locker room.
Georgia Tech responded to start the second half and opened with a 13-0 run - while the Lady Vols started with seven missed shots, four turnovers and three fouls.
"To lose that lead at the start of the second half like that was tough," Warlick said. "We can't do that and just give up. We've got to answer those runs, and we did and came back."
Freshman Jasmine Jones righted the orange ship with an offensive rebound and jumper to give the Lady Vols their first basket of the second half and a 47-43 lead at the 14:25 mark.
That led to a 16-0 run and a 63-43 lead with 8:18 to play on a Meighan Simmons free throw from an and-one play on an assist from Ariel Massengale. The play was set up after a bad pass from Graves, who, despite the error, hustled down court, contested Georgia Tech's shot and got the defensive rebound. Massengale got the ball and scooted to the other end, where she found Simmons cutting to the basket.
The play brought the Lady Vol fans - and the bench - to their feet.
"We can go big, or we can go small and load up the shooters on the floor," Burdick said. "That's what is great about our team. We are just so versatile, which is what this team so good."
The lead reached 24 points, 69-45, with 4:32 left on a highlight play by Burdick, who flipped a pass over her head to Kamiko Williams, for the layup and foul.
Two Jasmine Jones free throws ended Tennessee's scoring and a jumper by Georgia Tech's Brittany Jackson with 15 seconds to play ended the scoring at 71-54.
"They came out and punched us, and we didn't punch back," Joseph said. "That's what happened and then they got us on our heels, and we never recovered from that."
Tyaunna Marshall led Georgia Tech with 18 points, while Dawnn Maye added 12 points. Wallace had eight, while Jackson chipped in with seven points.
Georgia Tech shot 33.3 percent (21-63) overall, 19.0 percent (4-21) from long range and 53.3 percent (8-15) from the line. The Yellow Jackets had 20 turnovers, eight assists, 14 steals and two blocks.
Graves led Tennessee with 18 points while Burdick had 16. Massengale and Simmons chipped in with nine each.
The Lady Vols shot 40.0 percent (28-70) overall, 35.7 percent (5-14) from long range and 58.8 percent (10-17) from the line.
Tennessee prevailed on the boards, 48-43, and tallied 17 assists, 17 turnovers, 12 steals and four blocks. The Lady Vols got more than half of their points in the paint at 40.
It was a much better bus ride home than it was coming to Atlanta.
"They stopped thinking about what they had to do and just had fun."
INSIDE TENNESSEE'S TAKE
The Lady Vols rolled down Interstate 75 to Atlanta on Sunday with an 0-1 record, a young team and a first-year head coach. A matchup with top 25 Georgia Tech would seem to be the last thing they needed, but Tennessee regrouped and showed coach Holly Warlick that her players had a lot of heart.
"Before the game we spoke a lot to the team about having energy and I think this team came out and really committed to that," Warlick said. "We needed them to have fun, and they did just that. They stopped thinking about what they had to do and just had fun."
On the bus ride Saturday from Chattanooga - where the Lady Vols opened their season with an 80-71 loss - to Atlanta, Cierra Burdick moved to the front and sat with her head coach. The sophomore forward apologized to Warlick - Burdick played tentative in the loss - and told her it wouldn't happen again.
Burdick kept her word. She was 6-6 in the first half, including making three consecutive threes, and had 15 points in 12 minutes of play by the break.
"All we did after Friday was watch film, we basically put ourselves in jail," Burdick said. "Watched nothing but film, no phones, no TV. We just made sure that we came out for this game and played with a lot of energy."
The Lady Vols did indeed. They took the same bus north to Knoxville with a 71-54 win and Warlick's first career win.
They scored the first basket on the game - a pass inside from Burdick to Isabelle Harrison - and took the lead for good, 7-4, on Burdick's first trey of the game.
It was an important start for Tennessee after the debacle at Chattanooga, and the young team that folded against the Lady Mocs was nowhere in sight against the Yellow Jackets.
The orange-clad among the crowd of 5,517 - evenly split between Tennessee and Georgia Tech fans - got behind the team from The opening tip, and the energy and heart that Warlick said Saturday she wanted to see was evident.
Graves recorded a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds and despite being gassed near the end of the game, got an offensive rebound, stick-back and foul. Warlick said she realized she needed to get the freshman a breather, but Graves kept producing.
Graves is a throwback to the old school Tennessee player - takes a pounding, keeps battling, doesn't give in to fatigue. Pat Summitt wasn't in Atlanta - she had a scheduling conflict with her Alzheimer's foundation - but she would have been pleased with Graves.
The two freshmen were critical in the win but were back in school mode Sunday evening. A Twitter post from Carter had this to say about her and Graves.
"What do @bash931 and I do to celebrate the win?!?!? ….. We go to study hall …. #student athletes"
Sophomore Ariel Massengale didn't start the game but Warlick had her in it within five minutes in the first half and within two in the second, and she tallied an assist on Meighan Simmons' trey to give the Lady Vols a 13-6 lead at the 16:34 mark.
Massengale settles down the team, and combined with Carter, gives the Lady Vols two floor leaders and two players capable of handling ball pressure.
Massengale remains bothered by tendonitis in her Achilles tendonitis but logged 28 minutes with nine points, four assists and one turnover.
Tennessee had 17 assists - Massengale and Carter combined for eight - and lowered the turnovers from 26 against Chattanooga to 17. On Friday, the Lady Vols had 17 miscues by halftime.
Another freshman contributed Sunday in Jasmine Jones, who struggled from the field at 2-8 - when she missed two layups in the second half, her mother, LaTrish Jones, who played for Alabama - covered her face with her hands - but mama would applaud the board work as Jasmine grabbed 11 rebounds. She also hit both of her free throw attempts, scored six points and had just one turnover.
It was a stick-back basket by Jones that may have been the biggest bucket of the game. Tennessee had taken a 45-30 lead in the locker room at halftime, and Georgia Tech promptly went on a 13-0 run - Warlick said after the game she should have called a timeout before the media one - and trimmed the lead to 45-43.
But Jones grabbed a Graves miss and hit a short jumper for a 47-43 lead and the Lady Vols never lost it. Instead, they went on a run of their own to the tune of 18-0 - counting Jones' basket - and led 63-43 with 8:18 left to play.
Georgia Tech continued to try to attack Tennessee's 2-3 zone - Carter and Massengale were pests at the top of it - and continually failed.
"We didn't have a lot of toughness out there and that's one of the things we have to work on," Georgia Tech coach MaChelle Joseph said. "I think this was great for us because it exploited all of our weaknesses and it gave us an opportunity to see the stuff we have to work on moving forward."
Warlick could relate. She likely felt that way after Friday's loss. Despite not calling the timeout in the second half - something Warlick refreshingly acknowledged she should have done - she made the right moves in this game from substitution patterns to getting Massengale and Carter on the floor together to going with Graves in critical stretches of both halves, including moving her into the starting lineup.
With Taber Spani struggling from the field, and Harrison playing rattled at times, Warlick stuck with Graves and Burdick. She also counseled Simmons, who was saddled with two fouls in the first half, after a quick shot in the second half, and despite scoring just nine points, Simmons had one of her better games, especially on defense, where she contested shots and grabbed two steals.
Warlick also countered a Georgia Tech timeout in the first half. With 19 seconds left and Tennessee ahead 44-30 and safely tucked in a zone, Joseph likely wanted a play specifically to attack it. However, Tennessee broke the huddle and set up in man, and the Yellow Jackets seemed flummoxed.
Tyaunna Marshall missed a jumper with eight seconds late, Carter got fouled trying to get the defensive rebound and made one of two free throws for the 45-30 lead, a shocking margin given what transpired less than 48 hours earlier in Chattanooga.
Tennessee showed resilience to bounce back Sunday - and especially so when Georgia Tech cut a 15-point lead to two in less than five minutes to start the second half - and to even its record at 1-1.
It was Warlick's first career win and when asked about it in the post-game press conference, she threw her arms up as if she had scored a touchdown.
Warlick was visibly relieved. And her team was visibly improved.
"Friday was a real wake-up call for us," Warlick said. "We have a whole different team this year, and they just weren't ready. We regrouped, did a little soul-searching, and came together as a team today."
HIGHLIGHTS FROM UTSPORTS.COM
INSIDE TENNESSEE VIDEO COVERAGE
Andraya Carter, Cierra Burdick
The head coach completed her formal press conference and then stepped into the hallway as media members had more questions for her.