Missed opportunity: No. 3 Tennessee holds off Florida

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Florida guard KeVaughn Allen tries to back down Tennessee guard Lamonte Turner during Saturday's game in Exactech Arena at the O'Connell Center. Allen scored a team-high 18 points. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

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.

Again.

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.


Up next

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

29 COMMENTS

  1. I agree about the lack of class that Williams and Schoefield demonstrated doing the Gator chomp in front of the students after winning the game. They are upper class men. Act like it. Very poor sportsmanship and representation by the University of Tennessee basketball program. You would not see players at any top program acting immature like that.

  2. Chomp. Except for the last few minutes, the game tonight was extremely entertaining to watch. Florida, except for at the end, played a great game against the number three team in the country and a team that beat Georgia by over fifty points just recently. Just too many mistakes at the end of the game and some poor shooting by Nembrand the entire game. I think he missed three layups during the game, and I think he was left wide open on most of his other missed shots. White put together a great game plan and had the Vols on the ropes for most of the game. And to be honest, I wish White would not play Hudson in games anymore. He just not fit with this team anymore and he hurts the team when he is on the court with his now lack of offensive skills and poor to no defensive skills.

  3. I think you win as a team and you lose as a team. However, other than a nice alley-oop pass and a crazy lucky lay up, Nembhard played weak offensively.
    Hopefully he’ll learn, but he cost UF 4 points (for UT) in the closing minutes. Tough season all around, and the SEC play is just beginning.
    Go Gators!

  4. I’m not a basketball guy, so can someone tell me why the Gators let Williams “bully” them through out the game? It appeared to me the refs let him bump, push, shove anybody trying to guard him, with our defenders getting the foul if they dared tough him? If that’s the way the game is played, then pull someone(s) of the bench and shove him down every time he gets the ball, IE. knock him out of his comfort zone, make him earn it at the foul line, while teaching your bigger guys to be men. I’m I off base with this observation?

    • BSCE1981. Williams WAS called for such fouls during the game and he became frustrated by that. But he is a great inside player and established position inside better than any player in the SEC. Once he does that and gets the ball, he is practically unstoppable with the ball going to the basket. Florida denied with double teams low all night and the Tennessee adjusted at halftime and started getting him the ball up higher and he would then quickly attack the post, and Florida does not have anyone to challenge his strength inside. Not many teams in the SEC or the country do. He is just a great college player. He would not be able to do those things consistently in the NBA, but he can on the college level. White adjusted also with his defense in the second half to try to stop Williams, but that adjustment opened up other players for shots, particularly from the corners. Coaching matters and last night was a chess match between two very good coaches. Tennessee just has better players right now and why they are ranked number three and Florida unranked. For Florida to come that close to upsetting Tennessee last night speaks to the ability of Mike White as a coach. If you do not believe me, ask the Tennessee head coach about that theory.

  5. I missed the postgame with White. Did anyone ask why he benched Allen with the win within reach, not returning him to the line-up until only 24.8 seconds remained? He had the defensively weak and now offensively challenged Hudson in. Overall I want to see what White does when he adds Scottie Lewis and other top recruits next year. He needs to add a quality big to the class or find a big guy with immediate eligibility who can transfer in. And where was Isaiah Stokes last night?

    • Clyde. Stokes has repeatedly shown he lacks the athletic skills to compete at a level in the SEC that is needed in games vs. teams like Tennessee. Clearly, Stokes knee injury is limiting his development, as is his weight and lack of jumping ability (probably as a result of his knee issue). Gak is obviously being redshirted this year and will likely be the starting center next season and be much healthier. Hopefully, if he does not transfer (which is likely), Stokes will spend the offseason further rehabbing his knee and getting in much better shape and will become much more athletic and effective than he is right now. Allen was rotated out on his regular rotation to keep him fresh, and White could not get him back in the game on a TV timeout. That is why he did not return late in the game at that point.

    • Gatorboy. I do not ever remember Hayes being a star on any team in the past. He has always been a role player for the Gators who, due to the fact that Stokes is ineffective and Gak is injured (and likely redshirting now), is now starting and playing a lot with Bassett, who is very limited as a player on the court. Stone is just not shooting the ball well, and he is not that great on the defensive end on this team, which is important for an offensive limited team. Allen has been Allen ever since his freshman season. He is a very good defensive player who is very, very streaky as an offensive player. You cannot depend on him to be consistent on the offensive end of the floor. Hudson is just terrible now. Can’t hit the side of the backboard and cannot defend anyone. And he rarely hits the boards.

      • Swampy I would say Hayes had the look of a star in the sense he came off the bench and gave great minutes. I can remember the hustle and shot blocking when he came in and you trusted him and the thinking was he would turn into a real good player. It just seems like those guys never got any better and I would say regressed.

  6. kevin. I have never seen a player (Hayes) so constantly go to the basket so weakly. That block exhibited that about him. He is just extremely limited offensively. And he is very timid with the ball in his hands. I would say, when the ball is thrown to him, he mostly turns the ball over, gets it stolen for him, or goes up weakly and ineffectively to the basket. He is extremely athletic and can jump threw the gym. But he simply is not a strong and power source in the middle. The Gators, unfortunately, do not have that with Stokes being so ineffective and Gak injured. I am sure White was not counting on either of that from Stokes and Gak when he signed them to play for this team. It is what it is and why the Gators will not go far in the postseason in the NIT, most likely. If Egbunu had come back healthy, this would be a top tier SEC team. They are an average (below average some night and above average some other nights like last night) team in the SEC this season because they simply lack an effective inside game or players.

  7. This team has almost no future this year. They are a 3 position 3 point team. No 4 or 5. You can’t go far when the whole premise of you winning is making 50% of your 3 point attempts. If White can’t recruit or coach the 4/5 position, this is going to be an on going theme. The difference between Billy’s team barely making the NCAA and fighting for the regional title was always the 4/5. Give him 2 first round picks and he wins 2 titles. No different for White.

  8. Just poor shot selections and ball handling… again. Some of those shots we made to start the second half were just head scratching, and once again, a sign of poor coaching. We have to be smarter than that, more patient at times.

    I liked our effort, but I don’t believe in moral victories. That said, if we don’t develop a dependable big man to secure the paint for us and stop relying on finesse 3 point shooting 90% of the time, this team will be lucky to make the NIT.

  9. I wasn’t for lack of effort. Gators played hard and pushed the #3 Vols most of the game.

    Coach White had a great game plan that gave us more than a chance to win. There we were in bonus and tied late when the wheels fell off the offense.

    Shot selection seemed very poor in the last few possessions. The complete domination of the Vols in offensive rebounding during that period sealed the game. A few late baskets and this team could have stolen an epic victory!

    Gators also have to learn to rebound and box out a lot better on defense to beat a physical team in the closing minutes of a game.

  10. Omar Payne, the four-star center coming in next season, is Hayes revisited but with excellent hands, excellent passing skills in the low post, and has solid inside scoring skills. The similarity Payne has to Hayes is that he plays excellent defense and blocks shots all over the place. The drawback with Payne is that he is 6’9″ tall and only weights 215 lbs. Needs to come in and get in the weight room to become a force in the SEC. But Gak will be back next year and hopefully healthy.

    • Swampy, at 215, Payne, as a high school senior, isn’t that much lighter than Hayes as a college senior. He should be able to add about 10 pounds of muscle in the off season and hopefully be ready to help next season. You described Hayes’ issues perfectly above, and if Payne can defend like Hayes while adding decent offensive skills, he should contribute quickly. I hope Gak can recover by the end of this season, so his off season prep for next year won’t be hindered.

  11. First of all, deeply devoted Tennessee fan here, I just needed to get that out there! I wanted to say that I am very impressed with how respectful you all are to each other and how intelligently you are breaking down your opinions on your team and this game. I came over here looking for some conversation on the “gator chomp” incident at the end of our game on Saturday. I was embarrassed for our players and our team. Schofield and Williams are really good young men, and something set them off. It’s inexcusable and I’m very proud that our coach denounced the behavior and dealt with it quickly. Anyway, after Tennessee is gone in football (for the last 20 years), I always just become an SEC fan, and now I have even more reason to like the Gators as well. Thank you for listening.