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Tennessee routs Gators 78-66 in SEC quarterfinals

Florida now waits for its NCAA Tournament seeding, which wasn’t helped much by Thursday’s win over Vanderbilt.
Florida's Tre Mann (1) is defended by Tennessee's Keon Johnson (45) and Jaden Springer (11) in the first half.
Florida's Tre Mann (1) is defended by Tennessee's Keon Johnson (45) and Jaden Springer (11) in the first half. [ MARK HUMPHREY ]
Published Mar. 12
Updated Mar. 12

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Santiago Vescovi scored 14 points to lead five Volunteers in double figures, and Tennessee beat Florida 78-66 Friday to advance to the Southeastern Conference semifinals for a third straight tournament.

The Volunteers (18-7) won their second straight over Florida in the span of six days. The first gave the Vols a bye to the SEC quarterfinals, and they never trailed Friday to advance to Saturday’s semifinal against sixth-ranked Alabama, the SEC regular-season champ and an 85-48 winner over Mississippi State.

Yves Pons nearly had a triple-double with 11 points, eight rebounds and nine blocked shots that tied the SEC tournament single-game record set by Kentucky’s Andre Riddick in the 1993 title game. Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer each had 13 points for the Vols, and Josiah-Jordan James added 10 with nine rebounds.

Florida (14-9) lost for the second time in three games.

Tre Mann, who was 1 of 8 for two points in the first half, finished with a career-high 30 points for the Gators. Tyree Appleby added 14.

Tennessee beat Florida 65-54 last Sunday to split the season series and earn the bye over the Gators. The Vols seemingly picked up where they left off, taking the lead off a John Fulkerson dunk 16 seconds into the game. A 12-2 run capped by a Uros Plavsic putback gave Tennessee its biggest lead at 28-12 with 6:21 left.

Then the Vols went cold, hitting one of their final 11 shots. The Gators pulled within 31-22 at halftime with Appleby hitting a 3 with 1:14 remaining.

Play got heated with 17:10 left when Fulkerson had to be helped to the locker room after a pair of elbows to his head from Florida forward Omar Payne. Replays showed Payne caught Fulkerson’ with a left, forearm shiver to the face, then put his right elbow into Fulkerson’s head. Officials ejected Payne after review.

The Vols, who led 35-26 at the time, scored eight of the next 11 and pushed the lead to as much as 17. Fulkerson didn’t return and finished with eight points.

Big picture

Florida: The SEC’s best shooting team couldn’t outshoot the Vols as they shot only 34.5 % (20 of 58) compared to 46.% (28 of 60). The Gators also struggled with their composure a bit too. Not only was Payne ejected for the flagrant foul, they picked up another technical with 11:49 to go during a media timeout.

Tennessee: Pons, the SEC defensive player of the year as a junior last season, had a career-high in blocked shots while also tying the school’s single-game record by halftime with six. The Vols had an 11-5 edge in blocked shots.

Up next

Tennessee hasn’t won this event since 1979. But the Vols now are a win away from reaching the championship game for a third straight tournament, not counting last year with the cancellation. First, they must beat Alabama, which handed the Vols their first loss this season 71-63 on Jan. 2 in Knoxville.

Florida now waits for its NCAA Tournament seeding that wasn’t helped much by a win Thursday over Vanderbilt.

By TERESA M. WALKER AP Sports Writer