Tennessee fell behind 20-9 in the opening minutes and never seriously threatened on its way to a 66-49 loss to Donovan’s Gators Saturday evening in Gainesville.
This one was over by intermission as the Gators shot 69.6 percent (16 of 23) from the field and 63.7 percent (7 of 11) from 3-point range en rout to a 40-22 lead at the break. Florida, now 14-15 overall and 7-9 in SEC play, coasted home from there by dominating the game in every phase of play.
The Gators finished the evening shooting 57.1 percent from the field and 40.9 percent from 3. They outrebounded Tennessee 27-19 and posted 21 assists, compared to just nine for the Vols.
Tennessee, which slips to 14-14 overall and 6-10 in league action, shot a pedestrian 44.4 percent (20 of 45) from the field and a chilly 28.6 percent (4 of 14) from 3-point range in dropping its fifth game in a row and ninth in the past 11.
“I’m not discouraged,” Vol head man Donnie Tyndall said on the post-game show. “I’m disappointed we didn’t win and I’m disappointed we didn’t play real well today but I’m not discouraged. It (winning consistently) is going to happen; it’s just going to take a little time.”
Armani Moore was the lone bright spot for the Vols. The 6-foot-5 junior hit 7 of 8 field-goal tries on his way to leading Tennessee with 16 points and 5 rebounds. Star player Josh Richardson was held without a point for the game’s first 24 minutes. When he finally hit a 16-footer with 15:44 left the basket merely whittled Florida’s lead from 45-24 to 45-26. Derek Reese chipped in 10 points for Tennessee and Richardson closed with nine.
“They made him give the ball up,” Tyndall said of the Gators’ defensive work on Richardson. “That’s when other guys have to step up, and for the most part we didn’t get that tonight.”
Dorian Finney-Smith, just reinstated from a three-game disciplinary suspension, paced the Gators with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
“He’s an All-SEC type talent,” Tyndall said. “He’s had some problems here and there but obviously he was the best player on the floor tonight – 20 points, 10 rebounds, a couple of blocks. He really changed the dynamic of their team.”
Eli Carter missed practice with strep throat but recovered in time to add 11 points and 6 assists for the Gators. The unsung hero for the home team was Kasey Hill, who contributed 7 points, 8 assists and a spectacular defensive job on Richardson.
“We just could not keep in front off the dribble,” Tyndall said of Hill. “When they space the floor like they did we’re in man-to-man principles (instead 1-3-1 zone) and you’ve got to be able to guard the dribble. Right now we’re not doing that. We did a better job of that early in the season but here lately teams are going right at us and we’re not doing a good enough job of keeping them out of the paint.”
Tennessee never led and was tied just once – at 3-3 following a 3-pointer by Moore in the opening minute. A 3-pointer by Memphis native Chris Chiozza and two layups by Jon Horford gave the Gators a 10-3 lead that they expanded to 20-9 on a beautiful reverse dunk by Chris Walker.
A Robert Hubbs dunk off a nice feed from Reese trimmed the deficit to 22-16 but Florida closed the half on a 12-2 run that turned a 28-20 lead into the 40-22 bulge. How bad was Tennessee’s first-half defense? Seven of the Gators 16 baskets were dunks.
A 3-pointer by Finney-Smith gave Florida its biggest lead at 23 points (49-26) with 14:34 to play. Tennessee closed within 15 points (58-43) on a 3-pointer by Richardson with 7:33 remaining but never stopped Florida’s offense often enough to launch a serious rally.
Tyndall seemed confounded by Tennessee’s slipshod defensive effort.
“We missed three assignments on end-line out-of-bounds (plays) that resulted in three made 3-pointers, which is nine points,” the Vol coach said. “That can’t happen. I don’t know that we’d given up nine points total on end-line out of bounds plays all year.”
The Vols return to action Wednesday night, visiting LSU.