Big finish lifts Vols, 104-82

The old saying, "It's not how you start; it's how you finish," was never better illustrated than in Tuesday night's Tennessee-Florida basketball game.

Outscored 16-3 in the game's first four minutes, the No. 7 Vols outscored the No. 22 Gators 33-14 in the game's final nine minutes en route to a 104-82 drubbing.

Chris Lofton led Tennessee with 26 points, hitting 6 of 11 shots from 3-point range. It was his fifth consecutive outing with 20 or more points. After posting more fouls (3) than points (2) in the first half, Tyler Smith exploded for 21 second-half points to finish with 23. JaJuan Smith also scored 23 and J.P. Prince added 10 off the bench.

Vol head man Bruce Pearl is now 4-1 against the two-time defending national champ Gators. Speaking on his post-game show, he reflected on his team scoring 60 second-half points.

"What a second half for Tyler Smith," Pearl said. "Sometimes it's difficult in the league to recognize who the great players are, and Tyler didn't play like a great player in the first half. He got a bad whistle."

After picking up three quick fouls in the first half, Tyler Smith played the rest of the way without picking up No. 4.

"I didn't say anything to him (at halftime) and he didn't say anything to me," Pearl noted, "but he didn't get a foul the rest of the game and HE WENT OFF. He was the best player on the floor at that time.

"With Lofton and JaJuan on the wings and him (Tyler) getting the ball in the middle of the floor, it's very, very difficult to defend."

Tennessee improves to 20-2 for the first time in program history. The Vols are 7-1 in SEC play. Florida slips to 18-5 overall and 5-3 in SEC play. Tennessee recorded 27 assists and just nine turnovers. The Vols also won the backboards 39-31.

Marreese Speights scored 23 points to pace the Gators. Dan Werner added 18 points. Nick Calathes contributed 15 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. The Gators were 5 of 11 from 3-point range in the first half but 0 of 6 in the second half.

Tennessee set a torrid tempo throughout the game. Florida kept pace for 20 minutes, shooting 64 percent (18 of 28) from the floor en route to a 48-44 halftime lead. The Gators killed the Vols with simple pick-and-roll plays as Speights repeatedly broke free for layups and dunks.

"You can't let (the point guard) have an easy passing lane and viewing lane of those guys rolling to the basket," Pearl said. "We put no pressure on him (point guard). I could not get them to hedge. I could not get them to jump out. I told 'em at halftime, 'If you don't jump out (and pressure the point guard), you ain't playing.'"

The Vols heeded this directive and, after allowing 13 Florida assists in the first half, limited the Gators to 4 assists in the second half.

"We started to press up, put pressure on (the point guard) and they could not make those same passes," Pearl said. "Those guys (posts) were open but they couldn't get 'em the ball."

After running step for step with Tennessee for 30 minutes, Florida's players finally began to wear out with around 10 minutes left. This enabled the Vols to pull away heading to the finish line.

Leading just 71-68 entering the final nine minutes, Tennessee got transition dunks from Ramar Smith and Tyler Smith to open a 13-4 spurt capped by a Lofton 3 that bumped the lead to 84-72 with 5:47 to go. The Vols were just getting started, however.

After Florida closed to 88-79, Tennessee responded with a 9-0 spurt. Tyler Smith sandwiched a left-handed 6-footer and two dunks around a 3 by Lofton as the lead swelled to 97-79 with 2:32 to go.

After a Florida free throw, Tyler Smith scored on a tip-in, then JaJuan Smith added a breakaway basket and a 25-foot bomb from the right wing, bumping the lead to 104-80. Florida scored a few seconds before the buzzer to secure the final margin.

Inside Tennessee Top Stories