Florida scores 56 in second half to defeat Tennessee 85-74
After taking a double-digit lead early, then falling apart midway through the first half, Florida scored 56 second half points and shot 82 percent from the field to earn an 85-74 win Friday night in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.
It is the first time in Florida history that the Gators have defeated the Vols three times in one season.
“That’s huge for us to come in here and do that, and it’s very special,’’ senior forward Chandler Parsons said. “The rivalry of Florida-Tennessee is big and it’s been big since I’ve been a freshman here. And it’s tough because they are a great team. So I think it’s really special that we did that.’’
The Gators (25-6), who received their SEC regular season championship trophy in a short ceremony prior to the game, will play the winner of the Mississippi State/Vanderbilt today at 3:30 p.m. It will be Florida’s first appearance in the SEC Tournament semifinals since 2007.
Florida trailed 34-29 after Tennessee outscored Florida 21-4 in the final 9:22 of the first half. Florida coach Billy Donovan had a strong halftime message for his team.
“Be a man,’’ senior center Vernon Macklin said was Donovan's message. “Step up to the challenge and play hard. Play every minute like it’s your last and just keep playing hard no matter what.’’
Tied at 50 with 12:09 remaining in the second half, Florida went on a 7-0 run to take a 57-50 lead and never trailed again. Tennessee’s foul trouble put Florida in the bonus at the 12:35 mark, and the Gators went 24-of-33 from the free throw line in the second half.
All five Florida starters scored in double figures and the Gators shot 82.4 percent from the field in the second half, 58.7 percent in the game – its second best percentage of the season. Florida was 14-of-17 in the second half.
“Florida in the second half, their offense was absolutely on fire and our defense was nonexistent,’’ UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “. . . And when you allow a team to score 56 points in the second half or shoot the way they shot and send them to the foul line as often as we sent them, you got no chance to win.’’