UF knocked off in Knoxville
Published: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 10:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 27, 2013 at 8:55 a.m.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — As the shots kept rimming out, all that frustrated Florida coach Billy Donovan could do was watch and wonder.
The short-handed Gators put themselves in position to rally for a rare road win at Tennessee. But No. 8 Florida simply couldn't hit enough shots down the stretch against a smothering Tennessee defense, falling 64-58 to the Vols at Thompson-Boling Arena.
To make matters worse, Florida's pencil-thin bench could get even thinner heading into Saturday's matchup against Alabama. Florida junior forward Casey Prather left the game with blood running down his forehead after taking a blow to the head while fighting for a rebound late in the second half. Donovan said that Prather “may” have a concussion, which would be his third of the season.
Florida shot just 42.1 percent from the field and a season-low 23.5 percent (4 of 17) from 3-point range to fall to 1-7 in its last eight games at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“Defensively, I thought we played well enough to win the game,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “We just didn't make enough shots.”
The Gators were just 1 of 10 from 3-point range in the second half, and many came on wide-open looks. The toughest miss came with 1:12 left. Florida trailed 58-54 when point guard Scottie Wilbekin found Kenny Boynton on the right wing for a wide-open 3-point attempt in transition. But the shot clanked off the iron, completing a 1 of 7 night from the field and 0 of 4 night from 3-point range.
“Their team, guys were stepping up to the plate,” Florida junior center Patric Young said. “We had good looks that just didn't go down.”
On the next possession, Tennessee center Jarnell Stokes muscled his way for an inside rebound and putback as he was fouled by Florida senior forward Erik Murphy. Stokes completed the 3-point play with a free throw, putting the Gators up 61-54 while fouling Murphy out of the game. With Prather already out, Florida was forced to use freshman DeVon Walker in the closing seconds.
The Gators had no answers to stop Jordan McRae, who scored 27 points on 9-of-20 shooting. Stokes added eight points and 14 rebounds.
“He made shots, and being 6-6, he had the ability to shoot over Scottie,” Rosario said. “I thought Scottie did a good job forcing him to take some tough 2s. He's just a very, very good player.”
Mike Rosario led Florida with 16 points, while Young added 15 points.
Florida's last-gasp attempt came down 61-56, after Rosario came up with a steal on a trap. But on a breakaway layup attempt, Rosario was called for a questionable charge. Tennessee forward Josh Richardson appeared to be close to the block-charge circle on the play.
“I didn't know what was going to happen, because the refs were up and down all game,” Rosario said. “I made the drive and saw the two guys and felt like I could get them back into the circle.”
Said Donovan: ‘It's a judgment call and the officials do the best job they can in that situation. I was looking more to see if the floor was balanced and thought that there were a couple of players open on the wing that Mike could have dished the ball to for a 3-point shot. But Mike felt like he could make a play.”
Down 35-32 at halftime, Florida scored the first five points of the second half, taking a 37-35 lead on a pair of Rosario free throws. But the Vols answered with an 8-0 run, going ahead 43-37 on a dunk from senior Kenny Hall.
Down to six regular players in its rotation, Florida started the game with energy, jumping to a quick 9-2 lead. With Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier II out, Braxton Ogbueze was the first player off the bench for the Gators. Walker also saw time in the first half for Florida.
Florida did a good job inside on Stokes in the first half, double-teaming the 6-foot-8, 270-pound big man at times while getting him into foul trouble. Stokes picked up his second foul with 6:03 remaining and Florida up 24-19.
Young took advantage inside, getting a tip-in on an offensive rebound to put Florida up 29-23. But Tennessee closed the half strong. The Vols went on a 12-3 run, sparked by a pair of 3-pointers from McRae. The second McRae 3-pointer cut Florida's lead to 32-31.
Off a Rosario turnover, Skylar McBee then drained an open 3-pointer to put Tennessee ahead 34-32. Rosario then made another critical mistake, getting whistled for a foul with 0.2 seconds left on a rebound attempt. Yemi Makanjuola made 1 of 2 free throws for Tennessee to put the Vols up 35-32 at halftime.
McRae scored 17 points in the first half for Florida, while Young had 11 for the Gators in the first 20 minutes. Tennessee outscored Florida 20-14 in the paint.
After the game, Florida players and coaches refused to use fatigue as an excuse for the poor shooting day. Wilbekin played 39 minutes, while Boynton played 37 minutes.
“I'm a big believer in, you lace them up and you go out there and play,” Donovan said. “You have to deal with the hand that you're dealt.”