The Tennessee Volunteers (16-13, 8-8 SEC) held on to beat the Florida Gators (18-11, 10-6 SEC) 63-58 in a down-to-the-wire game. This win marks Tennessee’s fourth straight win over Florida and improves Rick Barnes’ career record to 5-1 against the Gators.
Neither team could create separation to start the game, with four lead swaps in just over five minutes of play. However, with 9:25 left in the half, the Volunteers began a 10-0 run that gave them a 26-14 lead.
Florida responded by making three free throws to cut the lead to nine, but Tennessee fired right back with six straight points of their own to end the half. Tennessee went into the break with a 32-17 lead over Florida. The Vols’ defense did not allow a single made field goal by the Gators for the last 9:49 of the half.
The Gators struggled shooting in the first half, shooting just 33.3% from the field, 14.3% from three and 66.7% from the line. Florida’s leading scorers were Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Noah Locke, both of whom only put up five points.
“Against a team that’s as hard to guard as anyone in this league, we really did defend them in the second half,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said.
On the other hand, Tennessee had a good offensive performance. The Vols shot 48.3% from the field and 36.4% from three, but did not attempt a free throw. The Vols were led by freshman Josiah-Jordan James who put up 10 points, four rebounds and three assists in the first half.
Tennessee came out the gates hot in the second half, extending their lead to 18 points off of a John Fulkerson free throw with 18:15 left. Florida fought back to make it an 11-point game with 14:45 left, but the Vols immediately went on a run of their own to extend the lead to 19. The momentum was soon killed after a Blackshear layup and two fastbreak points off of Tennessee turnovers cut the lead back down to 13. After a Santiago Vescovi layup, Florida buried back-to-back 3-pointers and a layup to slice the lead down to only seven at the score of 50-43 with 7:57 left.
Later, Fulkerson had two opportunities to stretch the lead from the line but could not connect on either. Blackshear netted a three and two layups to pull Florida within two. James then made a free throw, but Blackshear continued to score, making it a one-point game after two made free throws.
Fulkerson responded with his first career made 3-pointer as time expired on the shot clock.
“I’d love to say yes. I guess just give me the ball when the shot clock is at two,” Fulkerson said on if we will see another 3-pointer this season. “If you give me the ball out there, I’m not going to take a turnover. I’m going to shoot it.”
Florida guard Scottie Lewis then quickly made a layup to bring the game back within two. Tennessee could not connect on the other end, and Florida got the ball back and called a timeout down 58-56 with 1:09 left.
Tre Mann was not able to connect on a 3-point attempt after the timeout, and Fulkerson threw down a put-back dunk off of a Jordan Bowden missed layup to secure a four-point lead. Tennessee still had no answer for Blackshear’s offense as he knocked down two free throws to make it a one-possession game with 27 seconds left.
Coming off of the Vols’ final timeout, Vescovi was able to connect on both of his free throws to regain a four-point lead after being intentionally fouled. Florida tried to get a quick basket, but it was swatted away by Yves Pons with 16 seconds left to play. Off of the inbound play following the block, Blackshear was not able to make a contested layup and Tennessee secured the rebound.
Tennessee held on from there for a 63-58 win to avoid losing a second 17-plus point lead in their last three games. Blackshear led the Gators with 20 points and 9 rebounds, and Fulkerson led the Vols with 22 points.
“I told our guys, I thought he had the best motor in the league,” Florida coach Mike White said on Fulkerson. “I think he plays as hard as anyone in the SEC.”
Tennessee will be in action next on Tuesday in their last away game of the season. They will travel to Lexington to face the Kentucky Wildcats at 9 p.m., and the game will be aired on ESPN.
Edited by Christian Knox and Libby Dayhuff
Featured photo courtesy of Tennessee Basketball Twitter (@Vol_Hoops)