Tennessee's second half intensity beats Gators, 61-60

In the wake of Tennessee's home court loss to Vanderbilt this past week, coach Bruce Pearl made the following observation:

We can live with scoring 76 points, and we can live with shooting 44 percent -- even shooting 30 percent from 3," Pearl said. "But we can not live, and we can not win when we give up 51 percent shooting. It's the common denominator for all our losses.

Jackson the Mule, known 'round these parts for his uncanny ability to identify wisdom, agreed and implored Tennessee in the RTT open game thread for this game against Florida to turn up the defensive intensity and to give the Gators no open shots.

Well, it may have taken an entire frustrating half for the players to wake up for the early Sunday snowed-in game, but they did eventually crank up the heat in the second half and beat the Gators, 61-60, to extend Bruce Pearl's record over the Abomination to eight wins in nine tries.

 

The first half certainly had more of a feeling of the Vanderbilt and Georgia games, with the team shooting poorly, rebounding ineffectively, and defending as if they didn't care:

1ST HALF STATS
Florida Logo   Tennessee Logo
34
Points
28
15-26 (57.7%)
Field Goals
12-33 (36.4%)
3-6 (50%)
3-Point FGs
3-14 (21.4%)
1-2 (50%)
Free Throws
1-4 (25%)
20 (2-18)
Rebounds (Off-Def)
14 (5-9)
11
Turnovers
7
13
Points off TOs
5
4
2nd chance Points
6
7
Bench Points
8

 

Nothing good to see there except for the fact that Tennessee was down only six points despite getting mauled in almost every facet of the game. Florida even scored significantly more points off significantly fewer turnovers, and the CBS EXCLUSIVE BEHIND THE SCENES LOCKER ROOM FOOTAGE showed Pearl and his staff at halftime stroking their chins, squinting their eyes, and shaking their heads, pens in hand but nothing to write because they were fresh out of ideas. Seriously, it looked like they were lost.

But no. A lackadaisical first half somehow morphed into an inspired second half featuring suffocating defense coupled with well-oiled offense by the guys in orange.

2ND HALF STATS
Florida Logo   Tennessee Logo
26
Points
33
8-22 (36.4%)
Field Goals
13-32 (40.6%)
1-10 (10%)
3-Point FGs
4-9 (44.4%)
9-14 (64.3%)
Free Throws
3-8 (37.5%)
12 (4-8)
Rebounds (Off-Def)
27 (13-14)
6
Turnovers
7
8
Points off TOs
6
3
2nd chance Points
8
1
Bench Points
7

 

After allowing Florida to shoot 57.7% from the field and 50% from behind the arc and getting beat 20-14 on the boards in the first half, the Vols held them nasty Gatorses to 36.4% from the field and a bitter 10% from three-point range and beat them on the boards 27 to 12 in the second half. Nearly half of Tennessee's rebounds were of the offensive kind we love so much.

In short, the second half was all about intensity for Tennessee, and multiple guys got into the action. Wayne Chism took over the second half and finished the game with a double double (16 points and 11 boards), and also had three assists, two blocks, and one steal. J.P. Prince and Scotty Hopson were both also in double figures in scoring (12 and 10, respectively) and combined for another 11 rebounds. Cameron Tatum and Skylar McBee each hit two huge three-pointers, and Bobby Maze continually pressed matters and found the right guys.

It wasn't easy, for sure, and a one point margin of victory underscores just how close this team was to falling to 3-3 instead of 4-2 in the SEC during one of the easiest stretches of the schedule. The team continues to display an unnerving tendency to sleepwalk out of the gate. Pajamas tried to give the game away twice in the final minutes, fouling a three-point shooter on defense and turning the ball over on offense, and although the team responds well when the home crowd is amped up, the fans seem to need Bruce Pearl to tell them when to get loud. This isn't football, people. You don't wait until third down on defense to make noise.

But this afternoon, Scotty Hopson matched the Gators' Chandler Parsons' late clutch three-pointer with a clutch shot of his own to take the lead, and Tennessee's team defense played solid through the final whistle when Florida's last chance ended with a Hopson rebound.

The takeaway from this game? Don't look at the final boxscore. Look instead at the second half stats. If the Vols play with defensive intensity, they can beat good teams comfortably. If not, they can beat themselves pretty well, too.

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