Vols show resolve in road win over Gators
Earlier in the week, Tennessee men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes had been asked questions about how he thought his players would respond if they were trailing at halftime and if they were pushed on the road.
Saturday night, they answered both in resounding fashion.
The third-ranked Volunteers’ 78-67 win at Florida didn’t come easy. They trailed by six points early in the second half and were down 63-60 with 6:17 to play. But thanks to their 18-4 run down the stretch in Gainesville, the Vols improved to 14-1 overall and 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference with Arkansas coming to Knoxville on Tuesday.
Grant Williams led the Vols with 20 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals. Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner had 17 and 12 points, respectively, with both playing 29 minutes due to Kyle Alexander and Admiral Schofield spending most of the game in foul trouble.
Schofield finished with 14 points and hit a back-breaking 3-pointer late in the game, while Alexander had five rebounds, including two on one key Tennessee possession that ended in a Williams layup.
The Gators (9-6) fell to 1-2 in SEC play, but not before challenging the Vols, whose winning streak is now 10 games.
Afterward, Barnes told reporters at Exactech Arena about how No. 1 Duke’s 80-78 last-second win at No. 13 Florida State and Ole Miss upsetting No. 14 Mississippi State 81-77 on the road earlier Saturday gave him a pregame illustration.
“We all came down to get here, and the guys are normally early and on the bus,” Barnes said. “When I got on the elevator, I knew they were watching the end of the Duke-Florida State … and Mississippi-Mississippi State games. We were in the locker room talking about how that’s the type of games these (SEC) games are going to be. It’s going to be like that from here on out.
“I know this, they have great respect for Florida. They know (Florida) is capable of shooting the basketball. We told them before the game it was going to come down to the last possession if we did our jobs and figured out a way to hang in when things weren’t going well. We got down a little bit and stayed in it. I thought (Florida) did the same thing. I thought, ‘If we can get a little control of it,’ (but) they fought back.”
Barnes was complimentary of Bowden, who scored 12 consecutive points in a 1-minute, 51-second span in the second half, capping his good run with a steal and a dunk that put the Vols up for good with 5:36 to play.
“He missed some shots early,” Barnes said. “Defensively, I was on him more about his defense more than anything because a couple of those breakdowns was him. When we went to switching, a couple times he didn’t. He stayed with it. His teammates have a lot of confidence in him.
“We just felt like if we could get some stops, those three guys really like to run. And they looked for each other. We just felt like at that point in time we could get them out in the open court. Somebody get out in the open court, where it wasn’t such a grind, and maybe get a little breathing room. (Florida) didn’t really let it happen … we had one or two layups at the end.”
Florida, which entered Saturday’s matchup averaging 8.7 3-pointers per game, was 9-for-22 from 3-point range in the first half, spreading out the Vols for open looks. The Gators were 3-for-10 behind the arc in the second half and struggled to knock down such shots late, including a wideopen look for Noah Locke with 1:14 remaining that would have put Florida up.
Instead, Bowden grabbed the rebound and Tennessee ran a play for Williams at the top of the key, which ended with the 6-foot-7 forward driving left and throwing a cross-court pass to Schofield for a wide-open 3 that put the game away.
“Typically when I get the ball, they key on me,” Williams said afterward. “I knew if I drove it, somebody would be open. When I looked up, I saw (Dontay) Bassett coming, so I knew AD (Schofield) was in the corner. I knew he would make (the shot), and if he didn’t, I was there for the rebound.”
The Gators hit one shot over the final 6:13, a jumper by KeVaughn Allen with 3:35 to play. They were 1-for-7 with four turnovers during that key stretch.
At the end for the Vols, Turner knocked down a pair of free throws, Jordan Bone added a steal he followed with a dunk and Bowden made a layup before the buzzer.
Afterward, Tennessee players were seen doing the Gator chomp toward Florida’s student section. Schofield said some “inhumane” things had been said to Tennessee players during the game, although he declined to go into detail.
“I love Gainesville,” Williams said. “The students and the fans do a great job of bringing energy. It’s similar to TBA (Thompson-Boling Arena), but our fans are amazing.
“We need them to show up Tuesday for Arkansas.”
Contact Gene Henley at ghen[email protected]freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/ VolsUpdate.
Tennessee guard Admiral Schofield (5) yells from the bench during Saturday’s game against Florida in Gainesville. Tennessee defeated Florida 78-67.