The team in white took the opening tip on the run and got right to the basket. You could be excused for jumping up in excitement thinking the Vols were about to score mere seconds into the game. Thing is, it was the Gators in white tonight. The Vols were in the Smokey Grays, and where there's smoke, apparently, there's fire.
The Vols absolutely blasted Florida in the first half, shooting 51%, forcing 10 turnovers that led to 17 transition points, and outrebounding the Gators on their way to a 53-31 lead. The second half was somewhat less aesthetically pleasing, but the end result sure looked mighty nice as the Vols coasted to a 83-69 win. Kevin Punter kept doing his thing, leading the Vols with 26 points. Admiral Schofield continued his emergence with 17, and Hubbs and Mostella pitched in 12 and 10, respectively.
After Florida blew two layups off the aforementioned opening tip, both teams ran wild for the first 10 minutes. Schofield had 6 early points and Punter hit a layup and a 3 after an Armani steal on the inbounds pass, but Florida kept answering with buckets inside or jumpers. Three minutes into the game, the teams had combined for 24 points. Six (!) more long balls - 3 for the Vols, 3 for the Gators - punctuated another flurry of action that had the Vols up 26-20 (!!) at the under 12 timeout.
Punter stayed unconscious as the first half unfolded. Two layups and a FT brought him to 7-7 for 18 points, and a couple of nice lead passes off of Gator misses or turnovers led to free throw opportunities as the Vols expanded their lead to 14 at 37-23. KP did eventually miss a couple of times, but a series of transition opportunities and cold Gator shooting let the Vols run out to a 22-point lead at halftime, and TBA was rocking.
The second half started off about as different from the first half as possible with Dorian Finney-Smith scoring the first points almost three minutes in. Florida immediately jumped into a press, but the Vols broke it easily and got a Baulkman triple out of the deal. On their next possession, they got two offensive rebounds and a Hubbs floater. And then after another Florida turnover, Baulkman had a layup in transition. That was a pretty tidy microcosm of the evening for the Gators: they couldn't do much right, and when they did, the Vols answered with something better.
The rest of the second half...happened? Two free throws from Punter pushed the lead to 30 at 64-34 before some sloppiness let the Gators go on a 9-0 run. Punter hit a fadeaway, Hubbs continued some solid work in the post, Reese put back a Punter miss, and the beatdown more or less continued. The Vols throttled back with about 6.5 left and let the Gators close the gap, but the end result was never in doubt.
The Gators ended up with four double digit scorers, getting 18 from KeVaughn Allen, 13 from Devin Robinson, 12 from Dorian Finney-Smith, and 11 from Justin Leon, but this was a struggle for them. Their defense, rated 4th in the nation by KenPom, was shredded as the Vols spent most of the night north of 50% before settling at 47%. Florida finished the night 34.3% from the field, 63.2% from the FT line, and got outrebounded by a smaller team.
And that may be the story line to watch coming out of this one. It'll be less about Barnes' first SEC win (though that's nice) or Michael White getting smoked in his first visit to the team he snubbed, and more about a sneaky little lineup change.
#Vols starting lineup tonight: 6-foot-2, 6-foot-4, 6-foot-4, 6-foot-5, 6-foot-4.— Wes Rucker (@wesrucker247) January 6, 2016
With no real size to speak of, can the Vols run out a small, quick, shifty, swarming lineup every night and get away with it? Reese ran 13 minutes tonight, Alexander 5, and Kasongo 0. That might not work against Ben Simmons or UK's armada of big men, but after tonight's performance, it might be worth finding out.
The Vols are back in action against #17 Texas A&M at 1pm EST on Saturday.