How bad was it? Consider that in a series that began 97 years ago the worst defeat Tennessee had ever experienced against the Gators was 22 points. That was before Saturday’s SEC road opener in which Tennessee was throttled, trampled and trounced to the tune of 95-57, a 38-point margin of victory. Florida’s biggest lead was 95-55.
The Vols highlight occurred in the first minute of play when Jemere Hendrix scored a basket to give UT a 2-0 lead. Florida (11-2, 2-0) quickly countered to regain the lead and then scored on nine straight possessions to take a commanding 22-7 advantage.
Tennessee (9-2, 1-1) wasn’t ever able to cut into that deficit despite a 6-0 run that closed the gap to 40-24 with 3:24 remaining in the first half, and Florida coasted to a 49-30 lead at intermission.
A red hot shooting Florida team that connected for 62 percent in the first half continued to to pile up the points in the second stanza. Tennessee did manage to level the second half scoring when it pulled to within 19 points at 66-47 with 10:14 remaining, but a four-minute dry spell ended any chance the Vols had of making it a contest as Florida pulled away to an 82-51 lead with 4:56 left.
With the O’Connell Center crazies screaming for blood (and an appearance by UT walk-on Pee Wee Gash), Billy Donovan left most of his starters in and they kept running and gunning. Defensively, the Gators pressed the Vols in the backcourt — forcing 20 turnovers for the game — before dropping into a 2-3 zone that Tennessee never solved. UT hit just 3-of-12 from behind the arc and leading Scooter McFagdon, who came into the game as the SEC’s leading scorer was a chilly 2-of-12.
McFagdon led the Vols with 12 points while Brandon Crump and C.J. Watson finished with 11. Tennessee shot just 37 percent from the field (17-of-45). Florida was led by Matt Walsh with 20 points followed by David Lee, 17, and Anthony Roberson with 15. The Gators shot 64.8 percent for the game and outrebounded Tennessee 29-24.
Tennessee did cash in 19-of-21 from the charity stripe but it wasn’t enough to stem the tidal wave of turnovers and poor field goal shooting.
The good news is the Vols return home Wednesday. The bad news is they play undefeated Vanderbilt.