The Gators, now 7-1 in SEC games decided in overtime or by six points or less, tried one shot in the game's final 30 seconds and made it. Tennessee, now 2-4 in league games decided by six points or less, tried two shots in the final seconds - one from the field, one from the foul line - and missed both.
With the Vols leading 60-59, Cameron Tatum missed the front end of a one-and-one with 25.5 seconds left. Florida point guard Erving Walker promptly zoomed through Tennessee's defense for a layup that put the Gators up 61-60 with 14.7 seconds left. When the Vols' final possession self-destructed, Melvin Goins missed a 3-pointer just ahead of the buzzer.
Calling the game "One of the most disappointing losses of my career," Vol head coach Bruce Pearl could not hide his disgust on the post-game show.
Noting that his team had a "ridiculous amount of time to bring the ball up the floor and do what we needed to do," Pearl said the final possession began to unravel because freshman Tobias Harris failed to inbound the ball to Goins, the point guard.
"Tobias could've thrown it to Melvin but threw it to Cameron," Pearl noted. "That's not the play. That's not the guy to get the ball to. You get the ball to the point guard."
Upon getting the ball into front court Goins was to pass the ball to one of Tennessee's wings - Tatum or Scotty Hopson.
"They (Gators) could not stop those guys off the bounce from the wing," Pearl said. "All we've got to do is get the ball to the wing - with Brian (Williams) sealing the post - and drive it. That's it. Just drive it. Get to the rim. Draw, dish, knock down a shot ... while Florida's getting back on defense.
"It's a no-brainer, a no-brainer. But it starts off with throwing the ball to the wrong guy. Then Melvin doesn't go back to get it."
The final 30 seconds nullified 39 1/2 minutes of good basketball for Tennessee. The Vols shot 55.5 percent (15 of 27) from the field, including 45.5 percent (5 of 11) from 3, en route to a 35-29 halftime lead.
Florida went up 48-47 when Vernon Macklin intercepted a careless pass and drove for a dunk with 8:28 to play, then the lead seesawed back and forth the rest of the way. A Tatum steal and layup gave Tennessee its 60-59 lead with 53.9 seconds left but the Vols could not make a shot or a stop in that final 30 seconds.
Hopson hit 9 of 14 shots and scored 22 points for Tennessee, which slips to 15-10 overall and 5-5 in SEC play. He also led the Vols in assists (4) and turnovers (6).
"Scotty was special," Pearl said. "We probably should've gotten the ball to him a little more but he did turn it over six times. But he did a great job."
Williams came off the bench to sink 5 of 7 shots and finish with 11 points and 9 rebounds. Harris, limited to 20 minutes by first-half foul trouble, added 9 points for the Vols.
Walker made just 3 of 8 field goals for the Gators but hit 9 of 10 foul shots to finish with a team-high 16 points. Macklin and Kenny Boynton added 12 each for Florida, which improves to 20-5 overall and 9-2 in SEC play.
The homestanding Gators won the backboards 30-25 and killed Tennessee at the foul line, making 16 of 22 to the Vols 4 of 10.
"Erving Walker was 9 for 10 from the foul line," Pearl noted. "We went there 10 times, he went there 10 times. It's unbelievable."
Even with the free-throw disparity, however, Tennessee could've won the game if it had made one clutch play or stop in the closing seconds.
"It's tough," Pearl said. "This is a hard one. This is a really, really hard game because we had some of that mojo back (that led the Vols to a 7-0 start this season).
"We're 3-3 here now and we had a chance to go 4-2, so I'm just sick."