Gators Lose a Tough One in Knoxville

This time, the opponent had an answer for Chandler Parsons' potential game-winning heroics.

Tennessee's Scottie Hopson, who had only hit 3-of-14 shots in the game, drained a tough fade-away jump shot over Parsons with one foot on the 3-point arc and 16.6 seconds remaining to allow the 14th-ranked Volunteers to nip Florida, 61-60, in a nationally-televised SEC thriller Sunday afternoon before 21,208 at Knoxville's Thompson-Boling Arena.

Parsons, who had hit two game-winning shots for the Gators (15-6, 4-3) this month, appeared he might have his third when he drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 25.1 seconds left to play to give UF a 60-59 lead. But Hopson delivered on the ensuing possession to give the Vols (16-4, 4-2) their eighth win in nine games against Florida under head coach Bruce Pearl and their fifth straight home victory over the Gators, who last won at Thompson-Boling on Feb. 12, 2005.

Florida, which was out of time outs, did get a chance to win it at the end, working the ball into Alex Tyus, who led all scorers with 18 points, but his short bank attempt from the left side over Tennessee's Wayne Chism rolled across the rim and fell into the hands of Hopson, who dribbled off the last few seconds.

The heartbreaking loss ended a four-game SEC winning streak for UF while also putting a stop to a two-game SEC slide for the Vols.

"We had to burn a couple of timeouts there with about 1:40 to go where we couldn't get the ball inbounds on the side," said UF head coach Billy Donovan in his postgame radio comments on WRUF. "But that was O.K. because our guys knew what we were running, and we had plenty of time to get something good off.

"We've been on both sides of it. We were on the other side of it when Chandler Parsons throws in a 75-footer (to beat N.C. State) and obviously he makes a great shot last weekend against South Carolina. Give Scottie Hopson credit. He stepped up and made a difficult shot."

The Gators had taken a 34-28 lead into halftime, but Chism, Tennessee's All-SEC senior and emotional leader, drained a 3-pointer to open the second half and the Vols went on to outscore UF 17-6 over the next 10 minutes to take a 45-40 lead, enlivening the crowd which had been fairly subdued up to that point.

The Gators responded with six unanswered points to retake the lead, 46-45, and from there it was a give-and-take battle until the end.

Florida, which shot a sizzling 57.7 percent from the field in the first half, cooled off dramatically in the second half (36.4 percent) and finished shooting 48 percent (23-of-48) from the field. After going 3-for-6 from 3-point range in the opening 20 minutes, the Gators could not find the range following intermission, connecting on just 1-of-10 to finish the game 4-of-16 (25 percent).

UF, which had outrebounded each of its opponents in its four-game winning streak, also lost the board battle to the Vols, 41-32, with Tennessee holding a whopping 28-12 margin after halftime. Tyus and Parsons (14 points) were the only Gators in double figures and also led UF in rebounding, with Parsons grabbing eight boards and Tyus seven. But Florida's usually dependable backcourt of Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton struggled, combining for just 13 points and only seven assists while accounting for 10 of UF's 17 turnovers.

The Gators spotted Tennessee an early 5-2 lead before Tyus and Parsons ignited a 13-2 run that gave Florida a 15-7 lead with 13 minutes left in the first half. UF would hold the lead the rest of the way until the break, although the Vols did close within two, 23-21, with six minutes left.

A deep 3-pointer by Walker turned the tide and led to another Gator run, this one an 11-3 spurt capped by a Boynton jumper that gave UF a 10-point edge, 34-24, with two minutes left. Florida, however, which did a great job keeping the Vols off the offensive backboard, allowed them to get two easy putbacks to close the half, cutting the deficit to six, 34-28, at the half. Tennessee ended the game with 18 offensive rebounds.

With Kentucky's win over Vanderbilt Saturday, a win by the Gators could have moved them within one-half game of the two SEC East co-leaders. Instead, they find themselves tied with South Carolina for fourth place in the division heading into another tough SEC road game at Alabama Thursday night. The Tide is also coming off a heartbreaker, having dropped a 58-57 decision at Auburn Saturday.

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