Florida found itself in an unfamiliar position after one half of play against Tennessee.
The Volunteers were shooting the lights out (14-of-26, 53.8 percent) and jumped out to a surprising 35-28 halftime lead over the nation’s No. 1 team. Much like Friday’s quarterfinal win over Missouri, the Gators turned things around in the second half to win the game 56-49.
The Vols provided quite a bit more resistance than the Tigers though. It only took 5:11 of second half play for Florida to overcome the seven-point halftime deficit to take its first lead since it was 9-7.
The rest of the game was a grind.
The Vols responded with a 6-0 run to take a 43-38 lead, but the Gators clawed back and retook a 45-43 lead on a 3-pointer by Michael Frazier II at the 9:00 mark. Neither side could buy a bucket until two Jarnell Stokes free throws tied things up at 45 with just under 5:00 to go.
On the ensuing possession, Vols senior forward Jeronne Maymon was called for a questionable foul, his fourth, while battling for position with Florida’s Patric Young. Maymon was upset with the call and said something to referee Pat Adams, who subsequently called Maymon for a technical foul. The technical knocked Maymon out of the game after he had scored 10 points and pulled down nine rebounds.
The turn of events was huge for the Gators, who capitalized when Frazier II knocked down the two free throws from the technical and Young knocked down the other two from the personal foul. It was a four-point swing for Florida that propelled them through the rest of the game.
Young led all scorers with 16, while SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin added 14 and Casey Prather scored 12. Senior Jordan McCrae led the Vols with 15 points.
Florida (31-2), who beat Tennessee (21-12) for the third time this season, limited the Vols to just 5-of-20 shooting in the second half and also forced 16 Tennessee turnovers (11 in the second half). Heading into Sunday’s SEC championship game against the winner of the Georgia/Kentucky game, the Gators are now 20-0 this season against conference opponents and have won a whopping 25 straight games.
Despite the loss, Tennessee’s tough showing should help clinch an at-large spot in the NCAA tournament. The loss put an end to a five-game winning streak for the Vols who boast an RPI of 31 and the 13th toughest schedule in the nation. Cuonzo Martin’s teams have missed the barely missed the tournament the past two years, so despite Saturday’s admirable effort, the Vols won’t be at ease until they hear their name called on Sunday.
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