Gators' NCAA hopes take a hit in loss to Tennessee
You knew it must have been a big game when Urban Meyer and Tim Tebow arrived and stood on the court as the Gator basketball starters were announced Sunday afternoon.
But the guest appearance, and the sold-out crowd wouldn't be enough.
Tennessee shot 77 percent (7-of-9) from 3-point range in the first half, eventually led by as many as 19, then withstood a late comeback from Florida for a critical 79-75 victory over the Gators.
The Vols (18-10, 9-5 SEC) have defeated Florida seven of the last eight meetings, five consecutive.
Tennessee moved into a tie with South Carolina for first place in the SEC East, while the Gators (21-8, 8-6) fell into a tie for third with Kentucky and watched their tournament hopes dwindle.
Florida has now lost four of its last six games.
The Vols trailed just 2:19 of the entire game, and put together a 20-5 run to take a 29-14 lead with 9:49 remaining in the first half. Florida never led again.
“We made it close, but I would say for most of the game, they were in control,’’ UF coach Billy Donovan said. “I just felt like we were back on our heels the first 10 minutes of the game. From the start we were trying to play catch-up. I think our guys need to understand our margin of error is not very good.’’
Tennessee played like a team that couldn't afford to lose, while Florida played like a team still trying to figure out what it takes to win a big game.
The Gators entered the game 15-0 at home this season.
“It was just frustrating to see, for such a big game, for them to be able to come out and get a lead like that on our home court,’’ freshman guard Erving Walker said.
Late Saturday night, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi had the Gators as one of the last four teams getting into the NCAA Tournament. Today, they are fighting for their tourney lives with two regular season games remaining.
"There's none (margin of error),'' sophomore forward Chanedler Parsons said. "We've got to get better from this as much as we can. We understand what's at stake here. We control our destiny and we've just got to come out and learn from the tape tomorrow and get better and put all our focus on Mississippi State.''