Florida’s defense — mainly with its ball pressure and its ability to get Tennessee’s offense out of sorts — held the Vols to just 29 percent shooting from the field (19-65), 23 percent from deep (5-22) and led the Gators to a double-digit win at home.
Typically, Vol fans are used to seeing this team create havoc defensively and turning that into offense. But tonight, Florida scored 10 points off 10 Tennessee turnovers and shot 43 percent from the field, while the Vols created just 10 turnovers (seven below season average) and scored only five points off those freebie possessions.
Tennessee had no answer inside for UF post player Colin Castleton, as the Gator big man finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and an 8-8 effort from the free-throw line.
Julian Phillips scored Tennessee’s first point of the game, which was encouraging because it was the first possession of the game and Barnes ran a play to get Phillips moving downhill to the hoop. Phillips got fouled on the attempt and hit just one of the two FT shots.
A Vescovi 3 on the Vols’ next possession gave the Vols a 4-2 lead after the defense gave up a layup the UF’s prior trip down the court.
But Florida hit back-to-back 3s, the first that came off a Zakai Ziegler turnover, and the second came directly after Olivier Nkamhoua airballed a shot in the paint. UF’s Colin Castleton missed a look but got his own rebound and put it back up and in to give UF a 10-4 lead in the midst of an 8-0 run spanning nearly three minutes.
Ziegler turned in another careless turnover, and UF converted it into a layup on UF’s end of the floor. At this point, Florida trailed 12-4 and was on a 10-0 run that’s nearing a five-minute scoring drought for Tennessee.
Florida stretched that run out to 15-0 by the under-12 media break and led 17-4 with 11:48 left in the half. The Vols started just 1-10 from the field, turned it over four times and didn’t manage a point off three early Gator giveaways.
Ziegler had been playing his best basketball of the season prior to this game, but he was clearly out of sorts before Barnes pulled him after his second turnover in six minutes. And the Tennessee offense suffered. The Vols don’t have another playmaker on the team, and Florida’s defense made the Vols’ sets nearly useless.
At the 11:33 mark, Nkamhoua broke the seven-ish minute scoreless stretch with a bucket, and he scored the game’s next points at the 9:51 mark, making it 17-8 Vols. Nkamhoua made a 3 on UT’s next possession, then Ziegler dropped on in near the rim after Florida hit another layup against the Tennessee defense. When the commercials came for the under-eight media timeout, the Vols had closed Florida’s lead to 19-13, exclusively thanks to Ziegler and Nkamhoua. Phillips and Tyreke Key HAVE to be more involved/ aggressive.
Phillips hit a runner in the lane, Aidoo finished a half-court-lob pass James, then James and Nkamhoua both hit layups to cut Florida’s lead to just one, 22-21, with 3:06 until halftime. At this juncture, it was the Vols on the 6-0 run, and UF’s offense that hadn’t scored in nearly three minutes,
Florida’s Will Richard hit a wide-open 3 — his second of the half in two attempts — with 1:28 til half, and the Gators led 25-21 with one minute remaining in the period. A dunk from Florida’s Alex Fudge on an offensive rebound off a Richard miss gave Florida the final points before halftime, with the Gators up 27-21.
The Vols shot 29 percent in the first half and just 2-10 from deep. Florida flipped the script on Tennessee, pressuring the Vols into silly turnovers by picking up the Vol guards at half court and converting those turnovers into seven points off eight UT TOs.
UT didn’t close the first half well, but Ziegler opened the second half with a middy jumper, unfortunately, the Gators went down and drilled a wide-open 3 on the other end.
Tennessee cut the lead to 32-28 with an Uros Plavsic offensive rebound + and-1 put back, but UF got those two points back at the free-throw line on two Castleton makes. At 15:47, Vescovi hit a tough two-point jumper for his second bucket of the game, and UT corralled the defensive rebound off a Castleton miss near the hoop. The offense possession ended up in Phillips’ hands with his back to the hoop, and he finished through contact to complete the and-1 opportunity and cut UF’s lead to 34-33 with just fewer than 15 minutes left in the game.
By the 13:03 mark, Florida led 36-33. Tennessee was in the midst of a two-minute plus scoreless stretch, while the Gators hadn’t hit a field goal in more than six minutes of game time. After the time out, Ziegler hit his second 3 of the game but went and allowed another layup on the defensive end of the floor.
Ziegler dropped in another 3, his third, with 12:27 left, and UF missed an early, contested 3 on offense. The Vols took the lead on Ziegler’s third 3, 39-38, and Aidoo extended the lead to 41-38 with a legitimate post-move hook shot. He was patient and used the defender’s leverage against him en route to the bucket near the hoop.
Florida went down and missed a layup, then Nkamhoua blocked a shot which sent Tennessee off and running on the break. Vescovi went up for a 3, got fouled and hit the free throws. The Vols now led 44-38 with 10-ish minutes left.
Castleton cut the lead back down to four with a couple free throws, then Nkamhoua grabbed an offensive rebound on the other end but proceeded to throw a pass to Vescovi’s feet as Santi was cutting underneath the basket, running toward Olivier. Barnes immediately took Nkamhoua out of the game.
After Santi’s three free throws, Florida scored four points at the free-throw line, one 3-pointer and two layups, one of which came off a Tennessee turnover and came with an and-1 free throw. With 7:25 left, Florida had retaken a 50-46 lead.
Castleton embarrassed Plavsic in the paint for an easy two at the 6:46 mark, while Tennessee missed shots at the rim on the possession before and after.
A Kyle Lofton 3 make it a nine-point UF lead with fewer than five minutes remaining, as the Vols were squarely on the business end of a 13-0 run. Ziegler broke the scoreless streak with a 3 — Tennessee’s fifth on 17 attempts — but the Gators still led by six with just under four minutes left in the game.
Two more Castleton layups, one of them an and-1, stretched the Gator’s lead out to 60-49 with 2:55 left. James snagged an offensive rebound and put it back up for two at the 2:34 mark, cutting the lead 60-51.
James had a good look with about two minutes left, and it didn’t drop, which basically sealed the Vols’ fate.
- Tennessee outrebounded UF 43-36, but it attempted 68 shots to Florida’s 48
- The Vols’ bench, which has been a reliable source of scoring, especially of late, combined for just seven points. Tennessee got zero points from: Tyreke Key (13 minutes), Jahmai Mashack (three minutes) and Tobe Awaka (one minute)
- Neither Plavsic, Aidoo nor Nkamhoua could guard Castleton, which conjures up memories of Michigan’s Hunter Dickenson’s domination in the NCAA Tournament game last season
- Josiah-Jordan James and Santi Vescovi combined to shoot 4-23 from the field for 15 total points, six of which came from Santi FTs
- Ziegler led the team with 15 points, but it came on 19 shots and he had as many turnovers (3) as he did assists
- The Vols totaled just seven assists on 19 made buckets — that 37 assist percentage mark is a far cry from the 67-percent figure they average that ranks third in the country
- Tyreke Key and Jonas Aidoo were the only two Vols to finish with a plus number in +/-, with Key at +4 and Aidoo at +2. James notched the worst mark on the team at -21
- The team combined to hit six of its 15 layups