Even though the Tennessee Volunteers won their first two SEC games by a 70 point winning margin, fans everywhere knew something was up when they were only favored by four points heading into Saturday night’s matchup with the Florida Gators.
Great defense and clutch play from Jordan Bowden helped the Vols to a big victory in a game where Vols’ fans weren’t too sure as to what the outcome would be.
Tennessee got off to an excellent start. They went 4/6 from the field, including a 3/5 mark from three, as they built an 11-5 lead in the first 3:30 of the game.
Jordan Bone, Grant Williams, and Yves Pons all chipped in from downtown. But the Gators had some firepower of their own. Back-to-back threes from Dontay Bassett and KeVaughn Allen cut the lead to 13-11.
The Vols were able to jump back out to a 17-11 lead, but a foul from Kyle Alexander on Allen during a made three-pointer gave the Gators a four point play and Tennessee’s lead was cut back down to two points, 17-15.
Florida was able to tie it up off a layup from freshman Keyontae Johnson. The score was now 17-17 with 11:47 left to play in the first half.
A flagrant foul on John Fulkerson put the Gators in perfect position to take the lead, but Kevarrius Hayes missed both free throws. It didn’t matter, however, as Allen nailed a three from the corner to give Forida the 20-17 lead.
A 10-second call on the Vols put the ball right back in the Gators’ hands. They were on a 9-0 run at this point and things weren’t looking good for the Vols.
Another Tennessee turnover made things worse and allowed a hot Florida another scoring opportunity. It came through as Noah Locke hit the Gators’ sixth triple. The Gators now led, 23-17.
But Admiral Schofield hit a deep three to make it a one-score game, 23-20. It ended a 12-0 run by the Gators. He didn’t stop there, either. He came through with a nasty block just a few plays later on what was a guaranteed layup to prevent Florida from stretching the lead to five points.
The Vols continued to battle back, but the three-point shots kept pouring in from the Gators. UT was able to cut the Gators’ lead down to one, 28-27, but back-to-back treys pushed the lead back to five, 34-29 with just 3:16 left to play in the first half.
The Gators were able to build the largest lead of the game soon after at 36-29, but Turner came through with a corner three to quell the momentum and get the Vols within four, 36-32.
Tennessee attempted a last-second shot right before half, but it failed to leave Jordan Bowden’s hands before the shot clock went off and the Vols went into halftime down 38-35.
Despite a solid Gators’ defense and excellent three-point shooting from the water lizards, the Vols were only down three points. Florida attempted 22 three-pointers compared to just seven two-point shots.
It was clear that the Gators would have to find an inside presence if they wanted to win this game, but if their defense continued to stymie the Vols’ offense, then all bets were off.
Florida began right where they left off, nailing a three to open the scoring for the second half. The Vols continued to fight, however, and with a couple of free throws and a Schofield dunk, Tennessee found themselves down just 41-39.
Andrew Nembhard missed a gimme layup a few possessions later and Schofield capitalized, making a shot off the backboard to tie the game, 41-41. The Gators turned the ball over on the next possession and Turner made them pay as he dunked the Vols into a two-point lead, 43-41.
Keith Stone hit two of three free throws on the next possession to tie the game back up at 43, but Williams hit another shot to push the Vols back up by two. It was wash, rinse, and repeat with Florida as they hit two more free throws, but this time Bone came through with a trey on the next possession and Tennessee now led by three, 48-45.
Grant Williams then showed why he was the 2017 SEC Player of the Year on the Vols’ next possession. After appearing to be trapped at the top of the key, he simply put his head down and drove for a dunk from the foul line that is sure to be a Sportscenter highlight and put the Vols up, 50-45.
The Gators continued to fight and brought the game back within two points, but Kyle Alexander said “no more”. An amazing series that followed after the first Gator bucket in 6:15 was orchestrated by Alexander. Two offensive rebounds from the star center led to an easy bucket and an and-1 situation for Williams. He nailed the free throw and the Vols’ lead was back to five, 53-48 with 11:04 to play.
But Kevarrius Hayes was fed a sick alley-oop from Nembhard and he was able to get the foul. He managed to hit the free throw and cut the Vols’ lead back to two, 53-51.
A turnover from Lamonte Turner on the next possession gave the ball right back to the Gators, but they couldn’t convert the opportunity into points. It didn’t matter in the long run, though, because Schofield picked up his fourth foul of the game on an offensive foul.
Another turnover by the Vols left the Gators with a chance to tie the game, but Tennessee was able to come up with a turnover of their own.
With 8:48 to play, Hayes was back at the charity stripe with a one-and-one. He nailed both shots and the game was tied back up, 53-53.
The Vols then turned the ball over, again. This time, KeVaughn Allen hit the second three-pointer of the second half to give the lead back to the Gators, 56-53.
Amazing hustle from Turner and Alexander kept the ball alive on the next possession for the Vols. It paid off after Jordan Bowden was fouled during a three-point attempt. Bowden hit all three free throws and the game was tied back up, 56-56 with 7:20 to play.
Alexander’s fourth foul gave the Gators a chance to regain the lead. Keith Stone hit both free throws and the Gators were back up, 58-56.
Two more free throws by Bowden tied the game back up, but Florida responded with another shot to take the lead back, 60-58. Bowden wouldn’t let it go, though, as he scored the next 12 points for the Vols, helping them accumulate a 7-0 run to take a 67-63 lead with just 4:00 to play.
Florida was able to pull within two, but Grant Williams said, “No Sir”, as he hit a layup to put the Vols back up by four, 69-65 with 2:07 to play.
Jordan Bone fouled Noah Locke with just 1:25 left in the game and Locke hit both free throws to make it a one-score game, 69-67. A scary moment came when Keith Stone was able to create a turnover, but Locke missed the potential game-leading three and Tennessee was able to recover the rebound.
Excellent spacing on Tennessee’s next possession found Schofield wide open in the corner for a trey that put Tennessee back up 72-67 with :41.3 to play.
Florida missed their next attempt and Lamonte Turner was subsequently fouled as the Vols recovered the defensive rebound. The game was far from over, however, as Turner faced a one-and-one situation.
But Turner nailed both attempts to give the Vols a 74-67 lead and two straight Gator turnovers led to Volunteers baskets to put the final score at 78-67.
The Vols survived a scare to move to (3-0) on the season in conference play. They are now 14-1 on the season. Their next game is against the Arkansas Razorbacks on January, 15. Tip-off is set for 7PM EST.