The Vols suffered their second consecutive loss since Pearl began an eight-game suspension last Saturday, bowing to Florida 81-75 in overtime Tuesday night at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee, a loser in six of its last nine games, now stands 10-6 overall and 0-2 in SEC play. The Vols went nearly 4 1/2 minutes of overtime without a basket, by which time Florida had a 77-70 lead.
Tennessee's John Fields finally scored on a dunk with 32.3 seconds left in overtime but Florida's Kenny Boynton answered with a pair of free throws for a 79-72 lead with 31.1 seconds left. Cameron Tatum nailed a 3 for Tennessee but, after two missed free throws by Florida freshman Scottie Wilbekin, was called for a charge with12.1 seconds left.
Gator point guard Erving Walker nailed two free throws with 11.6 seconds left to seal Tennessee's doom.
"“Give credit to Florida, an experienced basketball team and very efficient on the offensive end," said Vol associate head coach Tony Jones, who is serving as bench coach during Pearl's suspension. "They outrebounded us early and got some run-outs in the first half. That was something that we couldn’t allow happen.
"In the start of the second half, they did a good job of going to (Alex) Tyus and (Vernon) Macklin down low. Our bigs didn’t do a good job. Our emphasis was to keep it out of the bigs’ hands. Obviously, it’s two-fold. Our guards have got to keep pressure on the basketball and not allow those easy post entries, something that we didn’t do."
Tyus scored 18 points to pace Florida, now 13-3 overall and 2-0 in SEC play. Boynton chipped in 17 points, Chandler Parsons 16, Walker 15 and Macklin 11.
Tatum finished with 21 points for the Vols. Scotty Hopson added 20 and freshman Tobias Harris 18 with 10 rebounds.
“Obviously, Cameron has got a lot of pride," Jones said. "He’s one of our main players. His mind-set tonight was to score the basketball, and he did that. I’m happy for Cameron tonight.”
The Vols shot a respectable 47.4 percent (27 of 57) from the field but made just 2 of 7 shots in overtime. They hit 35.0 percent (7 of 20) from 3 but just 63.6 from the foul line. Florida hit 52.5 percent (31 of 59) from the field and 50 percent (8 of 16) from 3 but a paltry 55.0 percent (11 of 20) from the line. The teams broke even on the boards with 35 rebounds each.
It was a streaky game for much of the night. Florida used a 10-1 spurt to turn a 14-9 deficit into a 19-15 lead but Tennessee made a 14-2 run to pull ahead 29-21. Florida answered with an 11-0 spurt, however, to go up 32-29. A Fields dunk finally ended the drought, enabling Tennessee to go to the locker room down just 32-31.
Florida built its biggest lead at 48-40 and still led by six (64-58) with 5:39 left. Tennessee rallied furiously at this point, getting a five-footer by Harris, two free throws by Tatum and a runout by Trae Golden to tie the score at 64 with 3:51 remaining.
Boynton hit a couple of free throws and Vernon Macklin a 4-footer as Florida surged ahead 68-64 but Hopson sank a couple of free throws and Brian Williams scored on a follow to tie the score at 68 with 1:42 left.
Tyus missed a one-and-one with 42 seconds left in regulation but blocked a potential game-winning 4-footer by Williams.
“We had an opportunity to win the basketball game at the end of regulation," Jones said. "We called a play called '12-Up' trying to get Scotty the basketball for him to make a play. We did a good job of catching it, sweeping it, and making a play. He got the ball to Brian, and Brian was close to the basket, (but) one of those guys made a really good defensive play and blocked the shot."
Florida's Walker missed a desperation 30-footer at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
Boynton took over in the extra period, hitting a 3 to give Florida a 71-68 lead and hitting another with 41.8 seconds left as the gap swelled to 77-70. That was a hole the Vols simply couldn't dig their way out of, even with a noisy home crowd cheering them on.
"I would like to thank the fans," Jones said. "They were unbelievable. We had nearly 20,000 fans who came out and really supported the Big Orange.
"I’m sorry we let them down tonight."