Gators use big run to upend No. 19 Vols 75-62
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP)—Florida’s first win over Tennessee in three years probably secured the Gators a berth in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2007.
Chandler Parsons scored 19 points, Erving Walker broke out of a shooting slump and Florida beat the 19th-ranked Volunteers 75-62 on Tuesday night.
Walker also finished with 19 points, 14 in the second half. Vernon Macklin added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Gators, who have won three in a row.
“We just moved another step closer to where we want to get to,” said Walker, who had struggled shooting the last seven games.
The Gators used a 27-6 run—highlighted by four 3-pointers and a bunch of points in the paint—to turn a close game into a lopsided affair. The victory snapped Tennessee’s six-game winning streak in the series and gave Florida’s NCAA tournament resume a much-needed boost.
The Gators (20-8, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) won for the fourth time in the last 15 meetings and jumped the Volunteers (20-7, 8-5) for third in the Eastern Division. More importantly, Florida probably secured a spot in the NCAA field for the first time in three years.
“Definitely a big resume win,” Walker said. “They were a ranked team, good RPI, a good team, big conference win, take sole possession of third. We can’t ask for a bigger win right now than this one.”
Scotty Hopson, who came off the bench for the first time this season, led Tennessee with 20 points. Wayne Chism, who torched Florida in the first meeting, had seven points and one rebound before fouling out with 4:02 remaining. Chism dropped to his knees near the bench, clearly in pain from a hard fall in the second half.
“He did not play effectively,” Vols coach Bruce Pearl said. “They did a good job against him. We really didn’t have another inside threat that could score or get fouled. … Florida’s big kids were better than ours tonight.”
There was little Chism could have done to stop this onslaught.
Florida came alive in the second half, with Macklin, Parsons and Walker doing most of the damage.
Macklin dominated Tennessee inside. Parsons was active on the break and on the offensive glass. And Walker got hot from the perimeter.
Walker hit three 3s in a 2-minute span, then Parsons made another that put Florida up 70-50 with 3:04 to play.
“It was like bang, bang, bang, and all of a sudden the game was blown open,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said.
The huge run sent SEC commissioner Mike Slive, Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway and most of the sellout crowd to the exits. Hathaway is a member of the NCAA selection committee, and Florida picked a good time to play its most complete game since beating Michigan State and Florida State in November.
Florida, whose RPI is 54 and whose strength of schedule is 71, improved to 3-6 against teams in the RPI’s top 50.
“The more games you win, the better chance you have (to make the NCAA tournament),” Donovan said. “I don’t think there’s any statements that you make in a particular win. … It was a great game and our guys did a great job, but we only get one win.”
The Gators scored the final seven points of the first half to tie the game at 37. All of them came in the paint—no surprise since Tennessee seemed content to play guards Walker and Kenny Boynton outside the 3-point line, leaving plenty of room down low.
Florida finished with 32 points in the lane.
The Gators needed every one of them to stick with the Vols, who hit six 3-pointers in the opening 20 minutes and had just four turnovers.
Florida, meanwhile, missed eight of nine from behind the arc. The lone 3-pointer? Boynton banked one in late in the first half.
Donovan kept calling for his team to pound the paint, feeding Alex Tyus and Macklin every time down the court. Not only did it work, but it helped get Chism and Brian Williams in foul trouble. Chism picked up his second with 16:21 remaining, and Williams got called for his third with 2:39 to play.
Chism picked up two more early in the second half and went to the bench with 16:01 remaining. The Gators took advantage.
“Florida dominated us in the second half, and they really deserved the victory,” Pearl said.