But then the Gators hit the worst stretch of the season, getting outscored 34-14 over the last 13:59 of the first half to trail by 19 at intermission. And just in case the 50-31 deficit wasn't enough to overcome, Florida came out in the second half and allowed the Vols an 8-0 run to make it 58-31; the kind of score we haven't seen in years.
The incredible stretch dug the Gators a hole that was way too deep for Billy Donovan's guys to dig themselves out of. It was a stretch dominated by two ongoing problems in particular. There were too many easy baskets for Tennessee and too many turnovers for the Gators. Add in another poor day shooting form long range (6-for-21 .286) and you have a recipe that's all too familiar to Florida partisans.
Rally Shows Character
You can look at it as too little, too late but the Gators effort and passion finally appeared for a stretch in the second half. With the game seemingly out of reach, Florida set off on a 30-11 run that made it a single digit game (69-61) with still six minutes to play. It was a rally that made the final minutes matter and it was a rally that may have identified a "back to basics" key for the rest of the season.
Florida found its spark while pressuring the quicker Vols. No, the pressure didn't force many turnovers, but it seemed to get the adrenaline going and that's even more important.
But there's a reason why teams don't rally from 27 down very often. It takes so much energy to get close; it's very difficult to finish the deal. Florida tried, but couldn't make the key long-range shots in the final five minutes that might have gotten them even closer.
Florida still is trying to get its back court going and while Lee Humphrey made some progress (3-for-7 behind the arc) Taurean Green didn't. The junior point guard had nine points and five turnovers. Corey Brewer had 12 points and seven turnovers. Those numbers can not win. Florida's big guys were not as consistent as you'd like, but they were productive. Al Horford (17/10), Chris Richard (12/5) and Joakim Noah (8/11) outplayed Tennessee's big guys and keyed a 36-25 advantage on the boards. However that advantag4e couldn't overcome 20 turnovers and poor long range shooting.
Billy Donovan has a tough decision in the next couple of days. This team needs to practice hard to re-establish some sort of identity on the defensive end and find their rhythm offensively. But they also could use a couple of days off. No matter how he handles it, senior day now carries with it a level of importance that seemed out of the question just two weeks ago.