But it wasn't enough. Tennessee is simply better.
Tennessee trailed the Gators by 16 in the first half and 13 at intermission, but a 36-14 start the second half put the boys from Rocky Top up ten and it seemed like Déjà vu all over again. The Gators had led the Vols by 16 up in Knoxville but ran out of glass and were blown out in the final nine minutes. It was about to happen again.
But then the Gators became a team. As Billy Donovan has said many times over the course of the season, a group of players doesn't really become a team until it learns how to handle adversity. Trailing 79-69 with 6:13 to play, Florida showed it had finally learned something. The Gators went on a 16-6 run over the next 4:25 and pulled even at 85 with 1:48 to play.
It really doesn't matter what happened next and why. Tennessee was more athletic, more experienced, deeper and less tired. Still the youthful Gators showed enough grit to force a turnover with just 6.9 seconds left trailing by three. A last gasp shot missed the mark and the Vols had the win, but the Gators won, too.
It may be too late for Florida's "win" to mean much this season, but down the line it should pay off in a big way. The Gators grew up on this evening, and showed themselves what it will take to finish this season on a high note. The huge challenge will be to show that this gutsy comeback effort was not the adrenaline of playing at home and trying to knock off Tennessee. They have to show that same intensity and grit in Lexington Sunday afternoon when they face the first truly "must win" situation of the season.
Assorted Tid Bits
Nick Calathes continued his charge towards the school assist record with nine. He has now dished out 183 on the campaign, just seven shy of Ronnie Montgomery's school record. With at least three more games to play it appears certain the UF single season record will belong to Calathes.
Walter Hodge was unreal in the first half with 15 points, but the junior guard scored just one point in the final 20 minutes. His hot hand (6-9 FG, 3-4 3pt) sure could have helped in the second half.
After posting a 24-2 record in the O'Connell Center the last two years the Gators suffered their fourth home loss in the Tennessee game. The Gators have lost just 20 games in front of the home folks in the last ten years.
There's another UF record within reach for Calathes. With 24 against Tennessee the rookie from Lake Howell has scored 477 points this season. Ronnie Williams has the Gator freshman record with 546 points in 1981. Calathes will probably need four or five games to pass that number.
The Gators shot .596 from the field against the Vols, which is a season high against SEC competition.
The Gators were minus seven in turnover differential in this game. That's the third worst performance of the season. The Gators were minus-eleven in the first Tennessee game and minus-eight against LSU. It's no coincidence the three games were all losses.
Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Larry Vettel
Gutsy Effort Not Enough
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