KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — This time, there was no lead to squander.
Florida played from behind for most of the night against No. 19 Tennessee and was unable to catch up in a 62-57 loss to the Vols at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Gators (17-11, 8-7 SEC) suffered their third straight loss, matching a season-high three-game losing streak from Nov . 26 to Dec. 9. The loss also dropped UF into a six-way tie for third place in the SEC with Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi State, Missouri and Arkansas.
Next up for Florida is SEC-leading Auburn at the O’Connell Center on Saturday night, which will be no easy task.
The Gators lost despite out-rebounding Tennessee 38-36 and outscoring the Vols 16-4 in second chance points Wednesday night.
“This game, we played as hard as any game we’ve played in the whole year,” Florida senior point guard Chris Chiozza said. “You’re upset whenever you lose but this is one of those losses where you say, you take it like a man, we played hard, they played hard. They were able to pull it out.
“The two games before that we made mistakes which have put us in this position.”
Junior guard Jalen Hudson led three UF scorers in double figures with 13 points, Chiozza added 11 points and nine assists, while forward Keith Stone scored 11 points. Ultimately, the Gators were unable to stop Tennessee sophomore forward Grant Williams, who led all scorers with 23 points. Florida also was done in by an off-shooting night, going 35 percent from the field, 25 percent (6-24) from 3-point range and 56.3 percent (9-16) from the free throw line.
“We had some open 3s, which are hard to come by against Tennessee, that didn’t go down,” Florida coach Mike White said. “We didn’t convert at the foul like we needed to and of course, at the rim we continue to struggle.”
Defensively, White said he couldn’t fault UF’s effort, even though Williams had his way in the paint most of the night. Tennessee (20-7, 10-5 SEC) outscored Florida 32-28 in points in the paint. The Gators held the Vols to 43.4 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent shooting from 3-point range.
“We’ve had three or four games where we’ve guarded at a high level and one of them was tonight,” White said.
Florida trailed 33-23 after Admiral Schofield and Lamonte Turner hit back-to-back 3-pointers with 15:51 left in the first half. But the Gators showed resolve, going on a 9-0 run fueled by defense. Stone scored four points during the run, including a three-point play that cut Tennessee’s lead to 33-32.
An inside layup by redshirt freshman forward Dontay Bassett cut Tennessee’s lead to 37-36 before the Vols answered with a 7-0 run, going up 44-36 on a three-point play by Schofield.The run started on a dunk by Tennessee sophomore guard Jordan Bowden that was the result of a breakdown in transition defense.
“Defensive transition hurt us a little bit, too,” White said. “We gave up a 3 in the first half just jogging back. We had about three or four possessions where we were just jogging around.”
After an Egor Koulechov 3-pointer cut Tennessee’s lead to 44-41, the Vols pounded the ball inside to Williams, who was too much for UF to handle. Williams made a pair of inside baskets to put the Vols back up 48-42, then Bowden hit a jumper to put UT up 52-42.
Florida made a late run, cutting Tennessee’s lead to 60-57 on a driving basket by Chiozza with 23.6 seconds left. But Chiozza missed a free throw trying to convert a 3-point play. Bowden then hit a pair of free throws with 13.6 seconds left to seal the win.
From the start, the Gators had issues handling Tennessee’s defensive pressure. Florida made just 2 of its first 11 shots, falling behind 12-5 on a jumper in the lane from sophomore guard Jordan Bone.
Florida withstood the early punch, rallying to cut Tennessee’s lead to 12-10 on a Koulechov 3-pointer. The Gators then took a brief 17-16 lead on a Chiozza putback of a Mike Okauru missed layup attempt after Okauru came up with a steal.
“We knew Tennessee would come out with incredible aggression, intensity and edge from the tip,” White said. “Early on our goal was to not give up live ball turnovers more than anything, let’s get shots at the rim, let’s give ourselves an opportunity to get to the offensive glass.”
The Gators, though, couldn’t sustain the momentum. The Vols closed the half with an 11-1 run. James Daniel hit a 3-pointer to put UT up 21-17. Then, Williams scored three straight inside baskets, including a dunk to put the Vols up 27-18 at halftime.
Florida shot just 26.9 percent from the field in the first half and 10 percent from 3-point range (1-10) to finish with a season-low for points in the first half. The Gators were even woeful from the free-throw line, going 3 of 7 with Chiozza missing the front end of a one-and-one.
“We didn’t get some shots to fall early,” Chiozza said. “We got the ball in the paint a couple of times and we weren’t playing off jump stops with two feet.”
|No. 19 TENNESSEE 62, FLORIDA 57|
Stone 3-9 4-7 11, Hayes 4-5 1-2 9, Chiozza 5-10 0-2 11, Allen 0-3 0-0 0, Koulechov 2-10 1-2 7, Bassett 2-3 0-0 4, Gak 0-0 0-0 0, Ballard 0-4 0-0 0, Okauru 1-5 0-0 2, Hudson 4-11 3-3 13. Totals 21-60 9-16 57.
Williams 8-13 7-8 23, Schofield 7-17 1-1 16, Alexander 0-0 0-0 0, Bowden 2-5 5-6 9, Bone 3-9 0-0 6, Pons 0-0 0-0 0, Fulkerson 0-2 0-0 0, Daniel 1-3 0-0 3, J.Johnson 0-0 0-0 0, Darrington 0-0 0-0 0, Turner 2-4 0-0 5. Totals 23-53 13-15 62.
Halftime_Tennessee 27-18. 3-Point Goals_Florida 6-24 (Koulechov 2-6, Hudson 2-6, Chiozza 1-2, Stone 1-6, Ballard 0-1, Okauru 0-1, Allen 0-2), Tennessee 3-10 (Turner 1-1, Daniel 1-2, Schofield 1-4, Bowden 0-1, Williams 0-1, Bone 0-1). Fouled Out_None. Rebounds_Florida 37 (Hayes 8), Tennessee 29 (Schofield 8). Assists_Florida 12 (Chiozza 9), Tennessee 13 (Bowden, Bone 4). Total Fouls_Florida 19, Tennessee 15.