Third-ranked Florida (22-2, 11-0 SEC) used defensive tenacity and the will to win in the second half to pull away from Tennessee (15-9, 6-5 SEC) 67-58. The Gators were actually down at the half 34-33, but used a strong defensive effort, holding the Volunteers to under 28% from the field in the second half. Scottie Wilbekin iced the game with free throws down the stretch and Patric Young went all out for an offensive rebound to ensure the Gators won.
Florida jumped out to a quick lead in the first half, leading by as many as 8 points in the first half, but Tennessee stormed back, tying the game at 26-26 with 5:05 left. Jarnell Stokes had 10 points from the inside for the Vols, while Jordan McRae added 11, mostly from the outside, to put UT up 34-33 at the half. Florida used a 8 point first half effort from Michael Frazier II to stay close at halftime.
Florida took the lead with 19:22 left and never trailed again. Tennessee rallied as Florida went cold for a 7 minute stretch just under 10 minutes to pull within 1 with 3:35 remaining. The Volunteers used a 1-3-1 zone to stifle the Gators offense. But Frazier and Wilbekin hit back-to-back clutch three’s to put the game out of reach for the Volunteers. Wilbekin made 5 free throws in the last minute to score a career-high 21 points, just one week after setting his previous career-high versus Missouri.
Wilbekin led the way for the Gators with 6 assists, 4 steals, and 3 rebounds to go along with his 21 points. Frazier notched 11 points on 3-of-6 three-point shooting and 2 steals to be the only other Gator to score in double figures. Casey Prather had a strong night with 9 points and 8 rebounds.
Tennessee was led by Jarnell Stokes, who once again scored and rebounded seemingly at will, tallying 20 points and 11 rebounds. Jordan McRae, who had a terrible game against Florida in Gainesville, added a so-so effort with 17 points, but on 6-16 shooting. Josh Richardson was the only other Vol in double-digits, scoring 13 points. Jeronne Maymon put in a solid effort on the defensive end with 9 rebounds, 4 steals, and 2 blocks.
Florida as a team shot only 36.2 percent on just 21-58 shooting, including 38.1 percent (8-21) from three point range. The Gators forced 10 steals in the game and added 2 blocks. UF assisted on 10 of 21 made baskets and outrebounded Tennessee on both the offensive and total boards. Florida notched 39 total rebounds and Patric Young was key as the Gators grabbed 18 offensive rebounds.
Tennessee fared much better in this game than their first contest against Florida. The Volunteers shot 45.8% (22-48) overall and 35.7 percent on 5-of-14 shooting from beyond the arc. Tennessee had 32 rebounds overall with 9 coming on the offensive end. The Vols also forced 7 steals and blocked 8 shots. UT had 8 assists on those 22 made shots.
Florida continued their winning ways, notching their 16th straight win and their 11th straight SEC win. The Gators evened up their record against the Vols under Billy Donovan at 18-18. Florida next travels to Lexington Saturday to take on the Kentucky Wildcats (18-5, 8-2 SEC) in a huge match up of SEC rivals. The Wildcats sit two games back of the Gators in the SEC standings. ESPN’s College GameDay will be there and we’ll have coverage before, during, and after the game here at Hail Florida Hail. Tip-off is set for 9 pm Saturday.