Tennessee 79 Florida 75 - Bruce Pearl Owns the Gators

Four years, eight games, and seven wins for the Vols against Florida (...and this is the part where we always have to point out that Florida's one win against Bruce Pearl's Vols came when Chris Lofton was injured and did not play), and while Tennessee's 3-1 record against Florida's two-time National Championship squad is certainly impressive, the two W's the Vols have scored against Florida this year may have been even more important.

The first, 79-63 in Knoxville on the final day of January ended a brutal month of close losses against the nation's second toughest schedule.  It showed that the Vols could shoot the three ball, and gave Tennessee what was thought at the time to be a marquee win at home.

Now, on the first day of March, Florida is reeling at 8-6 in the SEC and possibly on the outside looking in, and the Vols used today's 79-75 win to prove that they can win on the road, they can be consistent (eight Vols scored six or more points), and once again...they can shoot the three.

The early burst put Tennessee ahead, and it was a lead they would never relinquish.  Credit the Gators for not backing down - Nick Calathes finishes with 20 points and 7 assists, and the Gators shot 13-of-28 from three to battle to the finish.  Free throws were an issue for both teams.

But in the end, Tennessee held on thanks to some timely basketball plays from their best players - JP Prince getting to the hole, Wayne Chism (18 points) scoring from point blank twice in the last five minutes, Scotty Hopson with a key block and Tyler Smith wrestling away a key rebound.

It all adds up to a four point win that moves Tennessee to 18-10, 9-5 in SEC play, and into a first place tie in the SEC East race with South Carolina.  Those two teams will meet Thursday night in Columbia.

It's not 100% safe to say that Tennessee is in the tournament now, though I'd wager a split between Thursday in Columbia and next Sunday at home against Alabama would do it, without any extra work needed in the SEC Tournament.  And it's not 100% safe to say that Florida is out of it, though their season ending date with Kentucky next weekend just became even bigger for both teams.

The postseason situation will work itself out.  But on this day, more than continuing to assert their dominance on Florida, Tennessee showed that they are still capable of being a very good basketball team.  If the Vols can continue to play at that level, the season will go on as long as they make it. 

Right now, the season goes to Thursday night in Columbia, with a chance to take a huge step towards winning the third division title in Bruce Pearl's four seasons.

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