TENNESSEE 65, NO. 22 FLORIDA 63
Gators sent home with loss
Last-second desperation shot comes up short
Published: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 1, 2004 at 1:13 a.m.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - It would have made a script for a great college basketball movie. The hometown kid, returning to play against the team that didn't recruit him, drives the length of the court in the final seconds to hit the game-winning shot.
But freshman Lee Humphrey's desperation shot bounced off the front of the rim as time expired. With it, No. 22 Florida suffered a 65-63 loss to Tennessee that was all parts disappointing and perplexing.
How does a team that was 38 points better three weeks ago lose at the buzzer? That's a question that Florida will have little time to contemplate, as SEC East rival Kentucky looms Tuesday at the O'Connell Center in a game with more than bragging rights at stake.
"We have no choice but to bounce back," said Florida guard Matt Walsh, whose 17 points in 37 minutes weren't enough for the Gators to avoid their third conference loss of the season.
Tennessee (11-6, 3-4 SEC) snapped a four-game losing streak before 15,842 at Thompson-Boling Arena and found a way to win a close game after heart-breaking home losses to Kentucky and Louisville.
"It's been a long couple of weeks, and I have to commend our guys for staying positive," Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson said.
Florida had a chance to tie the game in regulation, but sophomore guard Anthony Roberson, fouled on a three-point attempt with 5.0 seconds and Florida, down 64-61, missed the first of three free throws.
"I felt confident I was going to knock them down," Roberson said. "The first one just rimmed out. It just happens like that sometimes."
Roberson, an 80.9 percent free-throw shooter, made the next two, then fouled Tennessee point guard C.J. Watson with 4.8 seconds left to stop the clock. What Roberson didn't know was it was his fifth, forcing him out of the game, and forcing someone else to take the shot at the buzzer that he's so used to making.
"I thought I only had three fouls," Roberson said. "But that's a foul that you have to make."
That set the stage for Humphrey, who checked in for Roberson. Watson made the first of two free throws to put Tennessee up 65-63, then missed the second. Florida forward David Lee grabbed the rebound and shoveled it off to Humphrey, who weaved through Tennessee defenders in a frantic rush to the basket.
Humphrey appeared to put the shot up just inside the 3-point line, though officials confirmed they probably would have had to review the shot on tape had he made it.
"It felt good coming out of my hands," said Humphrey, who grew up 16 miles south of Knoxville in Maryville, Tenn. "I was leaning forward and my feet weren't set. But I was able to get a pretty good look at the basket."
Much was made of Humphrey's return locally heading into the game, and how Tennessee's Class 3A player of the year was passed over by the Vols for freshman reserve guard Dane Bradshaw. Humphrey finished with three points on 1-of-5 shooting.
"I was a little nervous at first, but after you go up and down the floor a couple of times, you lose those nerves," Humphrey said.
Florida coach Billy Donovan wasn't ready to pin the loss on either Humphrey or Roberson, and for good reason. After one of its most crisp offensive games of the season against Alabama, Florida looked disjointed on offense, unable to get the ball inside to Lee and unable to shoot from outside with any consistency. Florida made just six of its first 21 shots and finished shooting 39.6 percent for the game.
Tennessee also dominated on the glass, out-rebounding Florida 43-24. The Vols grabbed 18 offensive rebounds.
"The big thing was the 18 offensive rebounds," Donovan said. "There was a lot of loose balls that they were able to get to. Neither team came out with much intensity in the first half, which surprised me.
"Our basketball team played just OK today. Not great, just OK."
Roberson and Walsh each led Florida with 17, but both committed offensive fouls late in the game that proved costly. Roberson was called for charging after barreling into Tennessee forward Justin Albrecht with 2:07 remaining and Florida up 61-60. After Albrecht made two free throws to put the Vols up 62-61, Walsh was whistled for pushing off with his right hand with 41.4 seconds left.
"The play broke down, and I was trying to create something," Walsh said. "We just couldn't get into any of our offense all day. It was frustrating."
SEC leading scorer Scooter McFadgon, a player Florida effectively contained in its 95-57 win at the O'Connell Center, finished with 24 points. But the big difference was Tennessee's tempo (slower) and play inside (more physical).
Center Brandon Crump had 11 points and 11 rebounds, and he teamed with freshman Major Wingate to shut down Lee, who finished with seven points.
Lee was held scoreless in the first half and put up just five shots all game.
"They did an effective job of doubling him," Donovan said. "David had some plays where he got clobbered in the first half and for whatever reason the officials wouldn't call it, but I guess on the road you're not going to get those calls. In that situation, maybe David needs to do a better job of finishing when he gets some contact."
Frustration about contact boiled over with 3:37 to go in the first half, when Donovan was whistled for a technical after an offensive rebound and slam dunk by Crump.
"When guys are over your backs on block outs," Donovan said. "I'm not a guy who gets technicals very often, so let's just leave it at that."
McFadgon made both free throws to put Tennessee up 29-19, but the technical seemed to get his team's attention.
Florida went on a 12-3 run to close out the half. Humphrey hit a 3-pointer from the right corner to pull Florida within 32-28 with 40.3 seconds remaining, and Walsh's desperation 25-foot heave at the buzzer went in, cutting Tennessee's lead to 32-31 at halftime.
Florida (13-5, 4-3 in the SEC) missed a chance to move up in the standings, with South Carolina and Kentucky both losing Saturday. A loss against Kentucky would match Florida's number of losses in the conference all last season.
"You have to move on quickly," Roberson said. "We have a big game against Kentucky, and that's where our focus needs to be right now."
You can reach Kevin Brockway by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 374-5054.
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