NCAA BK

No. 13 Florida loses 67-56 to open SEC season

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)

Florida coach Billy Donovan wants his players to learn that they can't rely on their offense to bail them out of tough road games.

The 13th-ranked Gators had their lowest scoring output of the season while allowing Tennessee plenty of shots around the basket in the Volunteers' 67-56 win on Saturday.

''Both teams played hard, but the difference was the defense,'' Donovan said. ''I still think our guys have a long way to go in terms of what they need to learn and how they need to grow, and these experiences hopefully will help us.''

Florida, which has lost all four of its true road games this year, came in averaging 85.4 points this season, best among SEC teams and fifth in the nation. The Volunteers held the Gators to 35.7 percent shooting while hitting 51 percent of their own attempts.

Josh Richardson hit a 3-pointer 41 seconds into the second half that set the tone for the Vols the rest of the way. Cameron Tatum stole the ball from Erving Walker on the next possession and ran it down the floor for a dunk to give Tennessee a 38-31 lead.

Kenny Boynton hit a 3-pointer for the Gators at the other end. Boynton, who entered the game averaging 19.5 points, finished with 13. Erik Murphy also had 13 for Florida (12-4, 0-1) and Patric Young added 12.

Renaldo Woolridge answered with a layup for the Vols. Tatum drew a charge by Bradley Beal and after running a bit of an offensive set drove to the basket to hit a layup to make it 42-34.

''If we defend a little bit better, I'm not saying we win the game but at least we're probably a little bit more in the game, and we needed to be,'' Donovan said.

The Vols (8-7, 1-0) expanded their lead as they hit 12 of 22 shots in the second half while the Gators hit only 8 of 27. Tennessee controlled the post in the second half and outscored Florida 32-20 in the paint.

Smothered by defenders, Jordan McRae hit a jumper near the basket to give Tennessee a 65-49 lead with 1:57 to go, putting the game out of reach for Florida.

''They were making shots,'' Murphy said. ''They were getting a lot of easy baskets, because they were executing their offense really well. You know, we didn't guard as well as we could have. You combine those two together and they are going to score.''

After starting every other game this season, Kenny Hall came off the bench to score a season-high 13 points. Jeronne Maymon and Trae Golden each added 12 points for Tennessee, while McRae finished with 10.

It was the first win by an unranked Tennessee team against a ranked Florida squad since Feb. 27, 2007, when the Vols beat the fifth-ranked Gators 86-76.

The Vols victory also marked the first signature win for first-year coach Cuonzo Martin, who replaced Bruce Pearl after the popular coach was fired for NCAA infractions. Pearl opened his own Tennessee career winning eight of nine games against Florida before finishing on a four-game losing streak in the series.

''You want to protect your home court,'' Martin said. ''Whether it's a new coach, new team, inexperienced guys or whatever you want to call it, you want to do everything in your power to try to protect your home court. The great ones find ways to win on the road.''

The Gators held early practices all week trying to get used to Saturday's 11 a.m. Eastern tipoff time and got their customary strong performance from their starters, who are all averaging double-digit scoring this year. But Florida's reserves only managed one point, a free throw by Casey Prather.

Though Florida entered the game with the advantage in nearly every statistical category, the two teams played to a near draw in the first half, with Tennessee entering halftime with a 33-29 lead.

The Vols outshot the Gators 48.1 percent to 41.4 percent in the first half and had four more points in the paint. Thanks to a solid effort by McRae, who was relegated to the bench for the first time all season, the Tennessee reserves outscored Florida's 11-0 in the first half.

The victory gives the Vols a boost as they continue through a month that includes four more games against teams currently ranked among the top 15 in the nation. Tennessee travels to No. 15 Mississippi State on Thursday and hosts No. 2 Kentucky on Jan. 14.

''It was really good for us to get our confidence back after the loss at Memphis,'' Maymon said. ''It's only one game, but we were just trying to start it off strong. Everybody's (SEC) record was 0-0, so we were just trying to start over like a new year.''

Tagged: Florida, Tennessee, Kenny Boynton, Jordan McRae

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