Florida tumbles into postseason with second consecutive loss

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Florida guard Tyree Appleby calls out a play against Tennessee during the first half Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Florida enters the SEC Tournament as a five seed after Sunday's 65-54 loss to Tennessee, which earned the four seed and a bye into Friday's quarterfinals.

Florida, playing without leading scorer Tre Mann (migraine), fell to 13-8 overall, 9-7 in the SEC after its second consecutive loss. Tennessee improved to 17-7, 10-7 in avenging a 75-49 loss to UF in Gainesville on Jan. 19.

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What: SEC Tournament

Where: Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn.

Who: Texas A&M-Vanderbilt winner vs. Florida

When: 2:30 p.m. Thursday

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 103.7-FM

The Gators will play at about 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the second round against the No. 12 seed Texas A&M-No. 13 seed Vanderbilt winner from Wednesday's opening round. Tennessee will play in Friday afternoon's quarterfinals against the winner of Florida's game.

Victor Bailey Jr., John Fulkerson and Keon Johnson scored 14 points apiece for Tennessee.

The Vols used a 36-12 run starting in the first half to take a 53-43 lead with 7:33 remaining in the game. Florida missed seven consecutive shots, and 9 of 10 from the field as the Vols ripped off a 21-4 spurt — including eight points by Bailey — to make it 53-43.

"We are an emotional team," UF coach Mike White said. "A team that struggled with runs, positively and negatively, really all year. Not handled them great all year. 

"Got off to a great start the first 15 minutes of the game. Played really well — gave ourselves the chance to come in here and steal one on the road. And then, couple empty possessions, gave in defensively, weren't as sharp in transition defense. Defending the glass really failed us."

The Gators didn't have enough to get back the momentum. After being outrebounded 18-16 in the first half, Tennessee was plus-11 on the glass in the second. Florida had just 21 points after the break, its lowest-scoring half of the season.

Guard Tyree Appleby had 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting and Colin Castleton added 11 points for Florida.

"I would say our defensive intensity, we didn't keep that up for the whole 40 minutes," Appleby said of the game's turning point. "I think we did pretty well in the first half for the first 20 minutes, but they came out and punched us in the mouth in the second half. We didn't respond."

The Gators, behind Appleby's nine points, jumped to a 31-17 lead with 5:24 remaining in the first half. 

But the Vols closed the first half on an 8-0 run to come within 33-28 at the break, as the Gators could only score two points after the 14-point lead by missing 6 of 7 shots the rest of the way and suffered two turnovers.

"We'll continue swinging and maybe consider lineup stuff," White said. "I'm not sure. We knew it would be a huge factor, we gave up 18 offensive rebounds, but credit them. It's not just us. It's hard to block out Yves Pons. It really is and they had great activity on the glass. Josiah-Jordan James was a big factor in there, as well."

The Gators went into the game leading the SEC in free-throw percentage (.760, 37th NCAA), field-goal percentage (.472, 42nd NCAA) and 3-point field-goal percentage (.359, 78th NCAA). On Sunday, they shot 41.7% from the field, made 3 of 13 (23.1%) from behind the arc and hit 11 of 18 (61.1%) free throws.

Notes: The Gators have not suffered a losing record in league play in any of the past six seasons, the only SEC team and 1 of 10 power conference teams to do so (Duke, Creighton, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan, Oregon, Seton Hall, Villanova, Virginia). ... The Gators went 9-7 in SEC play despite the loss of the preseason SEC Player of the Year, Keyontae Johnson. Florida played both games this season vs. Tennessee shorthanded, as Colin Castleton and Scottie Lewis both missed the first meeting in Gainesville.

Tennessee 65, Florida 54

FLORIDA (13-8, 9-7 SEC)

Castleton 3-6 5-5 11, Duruji 2-5 1-1 5, Appleby 7-14 4-6 19, Lewis 3-10 0-3 6, Locke 3-7 1-1 8, Payne 0-0 0-0 0, Ruzhentsev 1-3 0-0 3, Glover 1-2 0-0 2, Osifo 0-1 0-2 0. Totals 20-48 11-18 54.

TENNESSEE (17-7, 10-7)

Fulkerson 6-10 2-4 14, Keo.Johnson 7-11 0-1 14, Springer 2-7 0-0 4, Vescovi 2-6 2-2 6, Pons 2-8 1-2 5, Bailey 5-11 2-2 14, James 3-8 1-2 8, Anosike 0-0 0-0 0, Gaines 0-1 0-0 0, Nkamhoua 0-0 0-0 0, Plavsic 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-62 8-13 65.

Halftime_Florida 33-28. 3-Point Goals_Florida 3-12 (Ruzhentsev 1-1, Appleby 1-3, Locke 1-3, Glover 0-1, Lewis 0-4), Tennessee 3-20 (Bailey 2-6, James 1-3, Fulkerson 0-1, Gaines 0-1, Springer 0-1, Pons 0-4, Vescovi 0-4). Rebounds_Florida 26 (Castleton 6), Tennessee 34 (James 10). Assists_Florida 6 (Appleby 3), Tennessee 13 (Fulkerson 4). Total Fouls_Florida 14, Tennessee 14.

Florida guard Tyree Appleby (22) goes to the basket Sunday against Tennessee guards Jaden Springer (11) and Yves Pons (35) during the first half at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn.