No. 13 Gators lose at Tennessee
Published: Saturday, January 7, 2012 at 1:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 7, 2012 at 6:23 p.m.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — All week, Florida players and coaches talked about coming out with a different mindset on the road.
1. How will Florida respond to the morning tip time?
After jumping to an early 14-10 lead, the Gators looked flat and lethargic the rest of the game. The Gators failed to get to loose balls and did little to stop the Vols on the defensive end.
2. Can the Gators do a better job on the boards after being out-rebounded in each of their last two games?
Florida finished with a 37-34 edge on the boards and grabbed 14 offensive rebounds. But the Gators couldn’t take advantage of their effort on the offensive boards, scoring just 7 second-chance points.
3. Can Florida move the basketball better and avoid careless turnovers that contributed to previous road losses at Rutgers, Syracuse and Ohio State?
Florida had 15 turnovers against Tennessee, which led to 14 Tennessee points. Freshman Bradley Beal still has issues taking care of the ball. Beal had 5 turnovers against Tennessee and has 22 turnovers in UF’s four losses this season.
Yet after No. 13 Florida put together another lackluster effort in a 67-56 loss at Tennessee on Saturday morning, the Gators couldn’t shake the nagging questions about their poor performances outside the state of Florida.
Florida (12-4, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) fell to 0-4 on the road, dropping its conference opener without much of a fight. The Gators trailed 33-29 at halftime and couldn’t mount a run because they allowed Tennessee to shoot 54.5 percent from the floor in the second half and 51 percent from the floor for the game.
“I’m more disappointed in our defense than anything else in the game,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “I thought both teams played hard, but the difference was the defense to me.”
Donovan had a lot of other things to be disappointed about, including another negative assist-to-turnover effort on the road (10-to-15), lack of bench scoring (1 point) and missed free throws (six, 9 of 15 from line). Throw in a poor shooting day from the field (a season-low 35.7 percent) and the 3-point line (7 of 22, 31.8 percent), and it led to the Gators falling to a Tennessee team that came into the game last in the SEC.
“We didn’t execute as well as we could have,” Florida junior forward Erik Murphy said. “It’s just a common theme that we’ve been having on the road, and we have to fix it.”
But Murphy is confident that the Gators will fix their road woes.
“I’m not too concerned,” Murphy said. “We’ve got a group of mentally tough guys. It’s something that has been happening, been working on to fix it. I think we’ll figure it out and we’ll fix it.”
Donovan also thinks there is still time for his team to learn to play better on the road.
“I’m not worried about that,” Donovan said. “Playing on the road is kind of, for me, a mentality you’ve got to have.”
Florida already has more road losses than it did all of last season, when the Gators went 8-2 in road games.
“We’ve been a pretty good road team,” Donovan said. “Certainly two of the teams we played on the road (Syracuse and Ohio State) are ranked 1 and 3 in the country. So we played two of the better teams in the country. I think here is a tough place to play, Rutgers is a tough place to play.”
Murphy and Kenny Boynton led Florida with 13 points. Sophomore center Patric Young added 12 points.
Kenny Hall led four Tennessee players in double figures with 13 points, lifting the Vols (8-7, 1-0 SEC) to the win. A crowd of 17,689 at Thompson-Boling Arena watched first-year Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin pick up his first career win against a ranked opponent.
“The fans gave us great energy,” said Martin, who improved to 1-5 against ranked opponents. “I thought they fed off the way our guys played hard. It was fun to watch our guys really compete and battle.”
Tennessee’s effort on defense led to another disjointed Florida offensive effort on the road. UF has a combined assist-to-turnover ratio of 50-to-69 in its four losses.
“Some of the turnovers came when coach is trying to get the ball inside, trying to force it inside,” Boynton said. “You can’t stand around the post. They did a great job trying to deny passes. We got to do a better job at cutting backdoor, and I think overall we just had turnovers that were our fault.”
But Donovan also felt his guards didn’t do a good enough job recognizing Tennessee’s switches on defense in the first half.
“When they switched on Murphy a lot, we got the ball inside to Murphy against their guard, and Murphy had eight or nine quick points,” Donovan said. “And there was a lot of times when they had guards on Murphy, and we didn’t find him when he was open.
“There was a lot of times when Patric’s man was really jumping out hard on our guards and he was free rolling to the basket, and the guard couldn’t make the pass because of the coverage. But the next pass would lead to that, and we didn’t make that next pass like we needed to. So that’s something that we need to try to get better at.”
Florida has been red hot from the perimeter in its last two games, going a combined 27 for 48 from 3-point range in wins over Yale and UAB. But the Gators missed several open looks from the perimeter on Saturday.
“It wasn’t our day,” said Boynton, who went 3 of 9 from beyond the arc. “You are going to have days like this, and there were stretches in the second half where we couldn’t score, and they shot a great percentage in the second half.”
By the time Florida turned up its defensive intensity, it was too late. Down 58-45 with 8:51 remaining, Florida scored just two points in the next six minutes. Young also missed three free throws in the final three minutes.
Florida returns home, where the Gators are 8-0 this season, to face Georgia. The Gators also have won all four of their neutral site games in Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando and Sunrise.
But the road remains an albatross for the Gators.
“Anytime you play on the road, it’s a difficult challenge,” Donovan said. “We’ve got to learn what we’ve got to do to put ourselves in a position to win.
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway's blog at Gatorsports.com.