Gators Fall Short Against the Vols

Once again, the Florida Gators had their chances to pull a big upset and secure a signature win, but once again their bid fell short against the No. 4 ranked Tennessee Volunteers. Tennessee completed the season sweep over the Gators with a come-from-behind 89-86 win at the O'Dome.

"We played about as well as we could possibly play," head coach Billy Donovan said. "We did a good job in the first half against Chris Lofton and JuJuan Smith. They created opportunities with their ability to step back and use their size. You have to give them credit because they do it night in and night out."

The Gators (21-9, 8-7 SEC) were able to hold Lofton and Smith to seven points apiece in the first half, but both Tennessee guards exploded after the break. Smith finished with 23 points and Lofton with 21. Both knocked down three 3s in the second half to give the Vols their 28th win of the season.

"Our problem was that we had a tough time matching up against them," Donovan said. "In the first half, we really tried to just pressure Lofton and Smith and let some of the others take all the shots."

The game's start was very reminiscent of the first meeting between the two teams up in Knoxville when the Gators jumped out to an 18-8 lead. Wednesday night, Florida was red-hot in the opening minutes and took a 20-8 lead at the 15:15 mark. Hodge knocked down three 3-pointers and Werner knocked down another.

The Gators remained hot from the floor and stretched the lead to 16 points when Speights hit a 10-foot jumper with 9:07 left in the opening half. Florida finished the half, making 67.9 percent of their shots and also dished out 17 assists on their 19 shots made.

Hodge's outside shooting led the Gator charge. The junior knocked down 3-of-4 from behind the arc and scored 15 first half points. Speights also had a big half making all six of his attempts and scoring 12 points. Werner (11) and Calathes (10) also scored in double digits for the Gators.

Florida knocked down 7-of-12 3-point shots in the first half and Speights blocked four shots. The Gators maintained their comfortable margin for the entire half and took a 13-point lead, 55-42, into the locker room.

"[At the half] I talked to them about playing the whole game," Donovan said. "The biggest thing was the 3-point line because I thought they would be much more aggressive. I talked about turnovers and rebounding, and it was two of the three that hurt us."

Just like the first meeting in Knoxville, it didn't take long for the Vols to get back into the game in the second half. Tennessee scored the first seven points and held the Gators scoreless for nearly three minutes. The Vols trimmed Florida's lead down to six, 55-49, before the Gators answered with a 6-2 run, stretching the lead back to double digits, 61-51.

Tennessee continued to scratch their way back and at the midpoint of the second half, JuJuan Smith knocked down a 3 to pull the Vols to within two points, 65-63. Chris Lofton's 3-pointer with 8:17 left pulled the Vols to within one point, 69-68. At the 7:45 mark, Smith grabbed an offensive rebound, scored and grabbed their first lead of the game. Smith then knocked down two straight 3-point baskets in a 28-second stretch to take a seven point lead, 76-69.

Florida charged back behind 3-pointers from Calathes and Werner, and with 3:29 left, the Gators trailed by only two points. Calathes then knocked down a 3 with 1:47 remaining to knot the score at 85.

With 44 seconds left Smith missed two free throws, but the Gators failed to box-out and Tyler Smith scored on the rebound. It gave Tennessee an 87-85 lead and the Gators were never able to recover. After Werner was called for a charging foul with 7.9 seconds left, Hodge was able to create a turnover to give Florida one last shot. But Calathes hurried, off-balance 3-point attempt rimmed out and Tennessee escaped with the victory.

In Knoxville, the Gators let the game get out of hand after the Vols came back in the second half, but on Wednesday, after giving up a big lead, Florida came back from 10 down to tie the score.

"When you have a young team you have to have breakthrough moments," Donovan said. "Up there the game went the other way and I thought tonight's game was going that way, but we battled back. It was a great game. It was a great growing experience. They could really grow from this."

Florida finished the night making 59.6 percent of their shots and they knocked down 47.6 percent from behind the arc. Florida did turn the ball over ten times in the second half, but tied Tennessee in the battle of the boards.

After a great first half, Hodge was held to just one point in the second half. Speights had a tremendous game, finishing with 21 points. Calathes led all scorers with 24 points and also dished out nine assists.

Florida finishes the regular season in Lexington against Kentucky on Sunday.

Questions or comments? Contact's Chris Chmielenski

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