Tennessee has played some great games against Florida the past few years. Saturday wasn’t one of them.
Playing poorly on defense and even worse on offense, the Vols suffered a 67-41 beat-down at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville.
No one illustrated Tennessee’s utter futility better than high-scoring Jordan McRae. Coming off a season-high 34-point effort Wednesday against Arkansas, he mustered a season-low 5 points on this day, thanks to some superior defensive work by Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin.
“I think they challenged every one of Jordan’s shots,” Vol head coach Cuonzo Martin said on the post-game show. “They made him take tough, off-balance shots.”
Jarnell Stokes was the lone bright spot for Tennessee, now 12-7 overall and 3-3 in SEC play. The 6-foot-8 junior produced a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“He did a great job of battling through things,” Martin said. “They sent bodies at him – sometimes three guys at him – and he did a great job when he had an opportunity to pass it out to our guards. We just didn’t capitalize but I thought he did a great job of keeping his composure and continuing to battle.”
Stokes called the sixth-ranked Gators “one of the best team defenses in the nation,” adding that “they double-teamed the post and forced us to hit (perimeter) shots.”
Actually, Florida forced the Vols to attempt shots. The Vols hit just 1 of 19 attempts from 3-point range. That’s an ice-cold 5.3 shooting percentage. Tennessee shot 26.8 percent overall, thanks mostly to the inside work of posts Stokes (6 of 9) and Jeronne Maymon (4 of 8).
Simply put, the Gators’ swarming defense dominated the game from start to finish.
“I thought they did a great job defending – pressing us, speeding us up, forcing us to take and make tough shots in the half court,” Martin said. “I thought they had a really good game plan with Jarnell and Jeronne – to double those guys and force our guards to beat ‘em.”
Tennessee’s guards weren’t going to beat anybody on this day, as the three starters combined to make just 2 of 29 shots from the field. McRae finished 1 of 15, Josh Richardson 0 of 7 and Antonio Barton 1 of 7.
Basically, this was a competitive game for around 10 minutes. With Tennessee leading 14-13, Wilbekin scored seven points in a 13-3 run that put the Gators on top 26-17. The Vols produced all three of their points at the foul line during this stretch, going 0 for 8 from the field with three turnovers in a span of nine possessions.
Down 26-19 at the break, Tennessee’s bid to get back in the game with a quick start to the second half never materialized. Florida’s Michael Frazier hit back-to-back 3s to ignite a 16-3 explosion that turned a 28-21 lead into a 44-24 cushion. The bulge peaked at 32 points (67-35) with 2:39 remaining. Florida coach Billy Donovan cleared his bench shortly thereafter, inserting a cast of walk-ons that included his son, Billy Jr.
Tennessee’s defense was almost as impotent as its offense. It allowed the Gators to shoot 48.1 percent (26 of 54) from the field and forced just six Florida turnovers, despite the game’s fast pace.
Frazier scored 17 points to pace the Gators, now 17-2 overall and 6-0 in SEC play. Wilbekin added 13, Casey Prather 12 and Patric Young 10 for Florida, which has won 26 consecutive games on its home floor.
Tennessee will try to get back on track Wednesday night, hosting Marshall Henderson and Ole Miss. Tip-off is set for 8 o’clock.