Tennessee's four-guard lineup limited Florida to 42.1 percent shooting, including 23.5 percent from 3-point range.
Tennessee's four-guard lineup committed just nine turnovers, despite playing a reasonably fast pace much of the game.
The best thing about Tennessee's four-guard lineup, though, was that one of the four was Jordan McRae.
The 6-foot-5 junior did a little of everything as the Vols won their sixth game in a row, upsetting No. 8 Florida 64-58 before 19,567 boisterous fans and an ESPN national TV audience. McRae scored a game-high 27 points, grabbed 7 rebounds and recorded team highs for assists (4), blocks (2) and steals (2) in 39 impressive minutes.
"I thought he played great," Vol point guard Trae Golden said. "I thought he was unbelievable."
The victory moves Tennessee to 17-10 overall and 9-6 in SEC play. It also significantly boosts the Vols' chances of getting on "the bubble" for an NCAA Tournament bid. Big win? You bet.
"Any time you have a team like Florida – highly ranked, probably looking to be a No. 1 seed – playing a team like that is fun," McRae said. "Florida's obviously one of the best teams in the country – ranked in the top 10 – so this was a big win for us … a statement win."
|Tennessee junior Jordan McRae flushes home two of his team-leading 27 points.|
With Florida leading 29-23, he scored eight consecutive Vol points – sandwiching two 3-pointers around a driving four-footer. That whittled the deficit to 32-31 and fired up the crowd.
"Any time we start off slow and I get a little room … those are shots I can hit," McRae said. "The dude … uh, the person who was guarding me – I think it was (Scottie) Wilbekin – is about 6-feet, so I felt like I could shoot over the top."
When Florida scored the first five points of the second half to ease ahead 37-35, McRae again took over the game. After blocking a 3-point try by Mike Rosario, he scored on a transition dunk. Following a Golden drive that put Tennessee on top 39-37, McRae hit a pair of free throws, then assisted Kenny Hall for a dunk that bumped the Vol lead to 43-37.
Florida never got closer than three points thereafter but plenty of suspense remained. Back-to-back Gator baskets narrowed a 58-50 Vol lead to 58-54 with 1:53 remaining. The tension in Thompson-Boling was beyond description. McRae said it best: "Being up four or five (points) with two minutes left, those are the hardest two minutes of basketball right there."
McRae missed a 12-footer inside the final minute but teammate Jarnell Stokes muscled in the putback and was fouled. He tacked on the free throw to complete a three-point play that pushed the lead to 61-54 with 54.5 seconds to go. Still, the Gators managed to keep the fans in their seats until the final horn.
After a Patric Young dunk and a Tennessee turnover, Rosario was driving for a transition layup that would have cut the lead to 61-58. Josh Richardson deftly took a charge, however, to prevent the bucket and save the day.
|Vol point guard Trae Golden puts up a shot over Florida defender Patric Young.|
Florida entered Tuesday's game leading the SEC in field-goal percentage (49.2) and 3-point percentage (38.8). Limiting the Gators to 42.1 and 23.5, while holding them 15 points below their 73.8 scoring average, was quite a testament to the Vol defense.
"I think it definitely helped us because we're playing four guards," McRae said. "We were switching a lot of stuff (assignments) because we know they like to get on the line and shoot 3s."
McRae was the only Vol to score in double figures but certainly not the only Vol to contribute. Stokes finished with 8 points and 14 rebounds, six off the offensive glass. Golden added 8 points, 2 assists and a quality defensive job on Florida guard Kenny Boynton (1 of 7 from the field). Quinton Chievous came off the bench to produce 2 points, 3 rebounds and an assist in just eight relief minutes. Makanjuola grabbed 5 rebounds in five minutes.
Rosario scored 16 points to pace Florida, now 22-5 overall and 12-3 in SEC play. Young added 15 points. The Vols limited Erik Murphy, shooting 47.9 percent from 3 coming in, to 1 of 5 beyond the arc, 3 of 10 overall and 7 points.
Tennessee returns to action Saturday, visiting Georgia in Athens.