Tennessee finally got a road win, and this one might just give the team the boost it needs to turn around a mediocre season.
Trae Golden scored 17 points, Jeronne Maymon added 15 points and 11 rebounds, and the Volunteers upset No. 8 Florida 75-70 Saturday, ending the Gators’ home-winning streak at 19.
It was Tennessee’s most complete game of the season. Somewhat surprisingly, it came on the road, where the Vols had been 0-7.
”This is one of the most impressive wins of the season,” said guard Kenny Hall, who eight points. ”We got on them early and made sure we had the lead for most of the game.”
It was a downright debacle for Florida, which lost consecutive games for the first time in nearly two years.
Coming off a 20-point loss at top-ranked Kentucky and wearing gray uniforms to commemorate the program’s back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007, the Gators (19-6, 7-3 Southeastern Conference) trailed by double digits early and never mustered anything resembling a legitimate comeback.
”Where we’re going we might be in the NIT if we don’t just turn around right now,” Florida guard Bradley Beal said. ”If that didn’t fit into our minds and really stick in our minds, then I don’t know what’s going to happen. We really have to turn around, and I think we’ll do that.”
Florida’s biggest problem was it played most of the game without its top two reserves, guard Mike Rosario and forward Will Yeguete. Forward Cody Larson also was out because of a stomach virus.
Rosario missed the game because of a hip pointer, and Yeguete suffered a head injury early in the first half when he slammed into the padding at the base of the basket. He was briefly knocked out, then went to the locker room for stiches. He failed a concussion test during halftime, and coach Billy Donovan said he is out indefinitely.
The Gators essentially were left with a seven-man rotation that included seldom-used guard Casey Prather.
Nonetheless, Donovan said he saw the lackluster effort coming after a week of poor practices.
”I think these are the experiences where you get kind of hardened a little bit and our team needs to be hardened a little bit,” Donovan said. ”We need to be more battle-tested, battle-weary, so to speak.”
The Volunteers (13-12, 5-5) took it to Florida from the start, driving the lane repeatedly and getting big men Patric Young and Erik Murphy in foul trouble.
Tennessee finished with 36 points in the paint, 12 offensive rebounds and its first series sweep of Florida since 2009.
Coach Cuonzo Martin told his players during the morning shootaround that it was time they won on the road.
”We had the necessary pieces and the necessary mindset to win the game,” Martin said. ”Before, we weren’t mentally ready. I let our guys know we could win our road games.”
Beal and Kenny Boynton led the Gators with 16 points apiece. Boynton had four of the team’s 11 3-pointers. Florida leads the nations in 3s, but shot 37.9 percent (11 of 29) from behind the arc.
Most of those came late.
Erik Murphy drained two 3s in the final minute, trimming Tennessee’s lead to 71-64 with 18.3 seconds remaining. But the Volunteers closed it out from the free throw line.
Golden hit two foul shots with 17.2 seconds left to push the lead back to nine.
Wes Washburn was called for a technical foul with 11 seconds left, but Boynton missed both free throws. The Gators kept the ball, and Scottie Wilbekin hit a 3 to make it 73-67, but Golden sank two more on the other end to seal the victory.
Skylar McBee had 13 points for Tennessee, and Jordan McRae added 12 before fouling out in the final minute. Talented freshman Jarnell Stokes played despite a sore right hand and finished with four points. Cameron Tatum spent most of the game on the bench in foul trouble. He didn’t take a shot and finished scoreless for the third time in the last five games.
Tennessee used a 15-2 run midway through the first half to take a 24-12 lead. McRae scored seven points in the spurt, most of them off Florida turnovers.
The Gators finished with 15 turnovers, their most since committing the same number in Knoxville last month.
The biggest difference was Florida’s depth. With a short bench, the Gators had few substitutes and no real chance to press and try to force tempo.
Tennessee took advantage, repeatedly getting the ball in the paint and exposing Florida’s weakness.
How will the Gators respond?
”I don’t know if it’s a crossroads as much as it is a `Who are we, who do you want to be?’ kind of a thing,” Donovan said.