Gators Can't Survive Snakebite Saturday

Just call this Snakebite Saturday, a day when the only three unbeaten teams remaining in NCAA Division I went on the road and came up empty. It started with ninth-ranked Pitt losing at St. John's and continued with Duke's loss at Georgetown. By the time the dust settled in Knoxville, Florida's magical run of 17 straight wins to start the season came to an end, 80-76, at the hands of the Tennessee Vols.

The loss drops the Gators into a tie at the top of the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division at 3-1. Florida is now 17-1 overall while Tennessee improved to 12-3.

The Gators will travel to South Carolina Wednesday night.

Florida had its chances to win the game in the final minute but came up empty. The Gators tied the game at 76-76 on a pair of free throws by Corey Brewer. When Chris Lofton missed a three-pointer for Tennessee with 33 seconds remaining, Brewer got the rebound and burst out of the pack where he had a two on two situation. Rather than take the ball all the way, Brewer tried to pass to Joakim Noah when he got to the top of the key and Lofton intercepted the pass. Lofton fired a length of court pass to Dane Bradshaw for the go-ahead layup.

The Gators still had 25 seconds to work with but Lee Humphrey missed a three-pointer from the left wing with 13 seconds left. Lofton got the rebound for the Vols and was immediately fouled. He hit both foul shots to seal the win.

Florida played a full long stretch in the first half without Brewer, for whom the Vols had no answer. Brewer sprained his ankle with 9:34 remaining in the first half when he landed awkwardly after snagging a rebound. Florida led at the time, 23-17, and the Gators would extend that lead to eight, 27-19, on a dunk by Noah with 8:36 but the Vols just wouldn't go away.

Without Brewer's defensive presence, Tennessee came roaring back. A 9-0 run gave them their first lead of the game with 5:41 left in the first half on a rebound follow shot by Andre Patterson. Florida regrouped to go back ahead 42-34 with 53 seconds left and the Gators finished the half leading, 42-36.

Brewer got back in the game in the final three minutes of the first half. He scored on the one shot that he took with 2:21 left but he limped badly and was taken out of the game with just under two minutes left. He would play most of the second half and even though he did well on the offensive end, he didn't have the quickness to defend because of the ankle.

Florida extended its lead to eight after the break, 46-38, when Humphrey hit a three but Tennessee scored seven straight points, cutting the margin to one, 46-45 when Bradshaw scored on a layup with 16:31 remaining. The Gators would extend their lead to five on a couple of occasions but they just couldn't shake the Vols who spent much of the half playing with Patterson as their only player taller than 6-4 on the floor.

Tennessee got its second lead of the night on a JaJuan Smith layup with 8:46 to go to make it 61-60. The Vols made it a three-point game when Smith hit a free throw with 3:16 to go to make it 71-68. Green countered with a pair of free throws for the Gators to cut the margin back to one but Patterson managed to score over Noah to stretch the lead back to three. Green hit a layup for Florida but Smith got a tip-in over the taller Gators with 2:19 left to give Tennessee a 75-72 lead.

Noah cut that lead to one on a dunk after a nice pass from Humphrey with 1:42 remaining. A free throw by Jordan Howell gave Tennessee a 76-74 with 1:30 remaining. Brewer got Florida even one last time when he hit the two free throws with 45 seconds to go.

The Gators never could take advantage of their serious height advantage in this game. Florida started Noah at 6-11, Horford at 6-9 and Brewer at 6-9 on the front line. Tennessee played the bulk of the game with either 6-10 Major Wingate or Patterson at 6-7 in the post surrounded by four guards.

The Vols outrebounded Florida 38-34. Florida outshot Tennessee, 52.6 percent (30-57) to 42.4 percent (28-66) but the Vols hit 17-23 from the foul line while Florida was only 10-16.

The big difference in the game was in protecting the basketball. Tennessee turned the ball over only 13 times but Florida had 19 turnovers.

Brewer led Florida with 20 points while Green had 17. Noah and Horford had 11 each for the Gators. Patterson, who had a game-high 10 rebounds, scored 12 for Tennessee while Smith had 10.

Florida held Tennessee's leading scorer, C.J. Watson, to six points, a full 10 points under his average.

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