It was a wild scene, one of those environments you hope for if you are a Florida player or coach.
The only thing missing was a Gator victory.
Instead, the Gators failed to close out another close game, losing 78-67 to No. 3 Tennessee. It was Florida’s 16th straight loss to a Top-five team and one that definitely could have turned out differently.
The Gators led for much of the first half, overcame a brutal scoring drought early in the second half (6:02 without a field goal) and had the ball down 69-67 after a Keith Stone steal with a little more than a minute to play.
But freshman guard Noah Locke, who had 16 points in the game, missed a quick 3-point shot with 1:09 to go.
“I held my breath for a second,” said Florida coach Mike White. “I thought it was a good look.”
Then, Admiral Schofield delivered the dagger on the other end.
Tennessee got the ball to Grant Williams on the elbow and when Florida collapsed on last year’s SEC Player of the Year, Williams took some exaggerated steps before kicking the ball out to Schofield, who drained a wide-open 3.
“We knew they would collapse,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “He told our guys to get where they were supposed to be and I’ll get it to you.”
Down five, Florida took some wild shots at the end and Tennessee was able to get some cheap points.
“I don’t care what the score was,” Barnes said. “It was a one-possession game.”
KeVaughn Allen led Florida (9-6, 1-2) with 18 points. Tennessee (14-1, 3-0) got 20 points from Williams, who made 8-of-11 shots.
Jordan Bowden came off the bench to score 17, including five crucial points after Florida had taken a 63-60 lead. Schofield finished with 14 and Jordan Bone had 12.
Several Volunteer players celebrated the win by doing the Gator chomp in the direction of the Rowdy Reptiles.
“I think that was pretty low,” said senior center Kevarrius Hayes. “We are the University of Florida. Everyone wants to beat Florida.”
Not everyone has been able to this season, but the Gators lost for the third time at home and missed a chance to record a signature win despite controlling much of the first half and making 12 three-point shots. Florida was also 17-of-21 at the free throw line.
But some defensive lapses late in the game were the Gators’ undoing.
“Defensively, down the stretch we made too many mistakes,” White said. “I don’t enjoy saying the same things every game.”
One of the issues in the second half was that Florida was outrebounded 20-10, in part because of two possessions where Tennessee had three offensive rebounds each.
“Sometimes we’ve got guards just watching the fight,” White said. “If you don’t have five in the fight, you’re not going to win.”
As well as UF shot it in the first half, the Gators were 3-of-10 in the second half from 3. Other than Allen and Locke, the rest of Florida’s players were 3-of-17 on 3s for the game.
Freshman Andrew Nembhard was 1-of-10 shooting in the game and missed two wide-open lay-ups.
“It’s gotta be more important to us,” White said. “This can’t be a moral victory. We are the University of Florida. We didn’t do our jobs tonight.”
Florida will have a quick turnaround before traveling to Starkville, Miss., for a 7 p.m. Tuesday game with Mississippi State.
Who: Florida (9-6, 1-2 SEC) vs. No. 14 Mississippi State (12-3, 0-2)
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850