Gators Advance; Will Face Vandy

In a game of runs in the first half, it was a smaller run for Florida in the second half that helped the Gators take control. Tied at 50 with 12:15 left, No. 12 Florida went on a 7-0 that didn't seem insurmountable. However, that lead would never go under five points, and the Gators won 85-74 to eliminate Tennessee from the SEC Tournament.

"I think we were much, much more connected as a team in terms of looking like a cohesive unit in the second half," Florida head coach Billy Donovan said after his team beat Tennessee three times in a season for the first time in program history. "Obviously, we scored a lot of points. We shot a high percentage, and I thought we executed pretty well in the second half."

Center Vernon Macklin scored five points during the 7-0 run, but the Gators' scoring was spread out through the team as the game ended. Florida improved to 4-0 when all five starters reach double figures. Kenny Boynton led the Gators with 22 points.

Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl got a technical foul when the game was 52-50, allowing Florida to get two easy points on free throws and fueled the Gators' energy to end the game.

"It was a bad technical," Pearl said. "Very bad technical. And it really hurt our team. I felt that Steven Pearl had driven and I thought he got fouled, so I just said I thought he got fouled."

The run was the most important piece of Florida's 56-point second half. The Gators shot 58.7% from the field, good for their second highest total of the season.

The main difference in the second half came at the free throw line. Florida shot four free throws in the first half, but it got to the stripe 33 times in the second half. Tennessee shot 25 free throws in the entire game.

Florida opened the game on a 16-6 run, led by six early points from forward Alex Tyus. The Gators scored at will in the post early, and it looked to be setting up for a long game for the Volunteers.

"We didn't start (the game) with any energy, and that was disappointing," Pearl said.

The Florida lead stretched to 25-13 with 9:57 left in the first half before Tennessee showed some fight. After the Gators claimed that 12-point lead, the Volunteers went on a 21-4 run to close out the first half. Florida scored two points in the final 8:33 of the first half.

A game that once looked to be a breeze for Florida saw the Gators going to the halftime locker room needing to make changes.

"We weren't very efficient on offense, we weren't guarding very well, and then I thought our guys really settled down going into the second half," Donovan said.

More than anything, it was about pride for the Gators. The team was hot coming into the tournament and didn't want to ruin their stretch with a loss to Tennessee. The end of the first half came as an embarrassment to the Gators.

"Coach yelled at us at halftime and put us in our place," junior Erving Walker said. "He got us going, and we just didn't want to continue to look like that. We played how Florida is supposed to play in the second half."

The big change for the second half needed to come on defense, where Tennessee freshman Tobias Harris had his way early. Harris scored 18 points in the first half, but the Gators held him to seven points in the second half. The freshman didn't see too much of a difference on defense, instead believing he should have continued to score in the second half.

"I wouldn't say they did anything different," Harris said. "They pretty much played the same way. They really didn't do too much different in the second half."

Florida advances to the SEC Tournament Semifinal on Saturday afternoon at 3:30. The Gators will face Vanderbilt and be forced to try beating the Commodores for the third time this season.

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