The first half of this thing was an incredible display, both teams shooting north of 50% and the Vols taking a seven point halftime lead after Scottie Wilbekin hit a buzzer three. The second half was a slugfest, with Tennessee taking a pair of Florida flurries but answering back. After Florida took a 38-37 lead the Vols hit a 6-0 run capped by Jarnell Stokes, giving Tennessee a 43-38 lead with 12:18 to play.
From there, everything slowed down for Florida and stopped for Tennessee. Tennessee's defense returned to stifle the Gators, who cooled to 47.7% for the game after such a hot start. But the Vols turned the ball over eleven times in the second half; before we start pointing fingers anywhere else, we have to swallow that stat.
Still, Tennessee was right there. A pair of free throws by Stokes tied the game 45-45 with 4:57 to play. On the other end of the floor, Jeronne Maymon was whistled for his fourth foul on a bad call while defending his space against Patric Young (who was really good in this game). When Maymon disagreed, he apparently disagreed a little too much and was T'ed up and sent packing, his fifth foul. Troubling:
Martin said he didn't get an explanation on Maymon's technical...emphasized that he didn't curse. "Maybe his body language."— Daniel Lewis (@DanielNooga) March 15, 2014
So apparently we're T-ing up for body language? If that's actually the case, then I take back what I said about Maymon having to maintain his composure.
But we weren't done. Young made all four free throws, Stokes made one of two on the other end. But then, after going nearly eight minutes without hitting a shot, Jordan McRae hit a three to tie the score 49-49 with 2:49 to play. It was UT's second three of the day, with the Vols finishing just 2 of 13 from the arc.
Patric Young was beast again, giving the Gators the lead right back at 51-49. After a Vol turnover and a Florida miss, Jordan McRae went to the rim and appeared to get hammered...but there was no call. On the other end Florida had a run out, and Antonio Barton committed an intentional foul to give the Gators two more free throws and a 53-49 lead with 1:21 to play, plus the ball. But then Florida gave it right back when Scottie Wilbekin elbowed Antonio Barton in the face. The foul was called and we went to the monitor...and it was close. But Wilbekin admitted in the postgame he did make contact with Barton, who definitely sold the contact. The refs made a compromise call which is actually against the letter of the law, upholding the foul but not giving Tennessee free throws and the ball.
Then Tennessee got a rushed Armani Moore three, Florida got the rebound, and the threat was effectively over.
Look, the refs were bad. They made a bad call on Maymon's fourth and perhaps a really bad call on the technical. They missed a call on McRae that set up Barton's intentional foul on the other end, then didn't award us two free throws and the ball when Wilbekin elbowed Barton in the face.
But Tennessee still has to look in the mirror with one made basket in the final 12 minutes and 11 turnovers in the final 20. Consider how well the Vols were playing everywhere else to get through that and the officiating and still have a chance to win against the number one team in the nation on a neutral floor.
Congrats to Florida, who made plays and free throws they had to have and now has 25 straight wins. They're the number one team in the land for a reason and they find ways to win. For Tennessee, the conversation turns to selection Sunday. Tennessee's RPI holds at 41, which should be plenty good to get in. As Virginia plays for the ACC Tournament title tomorrow, the Vols could end up with one win over a one seed and three competitive losses with two others. Tennessee should be in and should avoid Dayton, which is now the biggest question.
From there, this team has to get over the hurt and frustration of today's loss and get ready to play its most important games. Tennessee's best basketball got them off the bubble, and the Vols were right there with basketball's best today. If we keep growing and moving forward, the Vols will dance and advance.
We'll see how the brackets fall tomorrow night. Go Vols.