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Shorthanded Gators upset No. 6 Tennessee

Florida, playing without three of its best players, shocks the Vols in Gainesville.
Florida center Jason Jitoboh dunks against Tennessee during the second half Tuesday, Jan. 19. 2021, in Gainesville.
Florida center Jason Jitoboh dunks against Tennessee during the second half Tuesday, Jan. 19. 2021, in Gainesville. [ MATT STAMEY | AP ]
Published Jan. 20
Updated Jan. 20

GAINESVILLE — Noah Locke scored 14 points, Tyree Appleby added 13 and short-handed Florida stunned No. 6 Tennessee 75-49 on Tuesday night.

Tre Mann chipped in 12 points for the Gators, who got unexpected help from several bench guys to offset being without three of their best players. Guard Scottie Lewis (COVID-19 protocols) and forward Colin Castleton (ankle) missed the game.

But forward Omar Payne, starting for the first time in nearly a year, finished with nine points, nine rebounds and five blocked shots for Florida (7-4, 4-3 SEC). Seldom-used subs Jason Jitoboh, Osayi Osifo, Niels Lane and Ques Glover also delivered quality minutes against one of the SEC’s elite teams.

The Volunteers (10-2, 4-2) had a woeful shooting performance and were equally ineffective on the other end. Florida, which has spent the last month slowly tweaking its offense to overcome the loss of conference preseason player of the year Keyontae Johnson — who collapsed on the court in early December and is likely out for the season — pounded Tennessee inside.

The Gators outrebounded the Vols by eight and outscored them 42-22 in the paint. Tennessee’s 49 points were a season low.

Florida used a 7-0 run to build a double-digit lead late in the first half and a 13-2 spurt early in the second to stretch its advantage to 20 points (53-33).

The result was Florida’s best performance since stunning No. 4 Auburn in Gainesville last January. This might have been even more shocking given the state of Florida’s roster. Johnson, Castleton and Lewis combined to average nearly 40 points.

Castleton tweaked an ankle in Florida’s last game and was ruled out shortly after warmups. Lewis missed his third straight game, but he is expected to return this weekend.

Tennessee shot 29 percent from the field and hit 3-of-18 from 3-point range. John Fulkerson led the Vols with 15 points, four rebounds and five assists. But the 6-foot-9, 215-pound forward was no match for Payne and Jitoboh down low.

Leading scorer Victor Bailey finished with four points on 1-of-12 shooting.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Vols had won four in a row in the series and a fifth straight seemed like a lock given Florida’s injury situation. But the Gators exposed Tennessee’s biggest weakness: a lack of a post presence.

Florida: Coach Mike White seems to get his best from his guys against top competition. The Gators now have wins of 17, 22 and 26 points against top-10 teams during White’s six seasons.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: Hosts No. 19 Missouri on Saturday.

Florida: Plays at Georgia on Saturday.

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By MARK LONG