With two McDonald’s All-Americans on their roster, the No. 6 Volunteers waltzed into the Stephen C. O’Connell Center as super-sized favorites over the shorthanded Gators.
The Vols might have had one too many Big Macs, however, as Florida outscored, outrebounded and outpaced Tennessee en route to a 75-49 victory Tuesday. The 26-point win marked Florida’s largest margin of victory over a top-10 opponent during the coach Mike White era.
The Gators, who were already without star junior forward and SEC Preseason Player of the Year Keyontae Johnson, stepped onto the court without sophomore guard Scottie Lewis and junior forward Colin Castleton, the team’s two biggest contributors since Johnson was declared out for the year with myocarditis.
Florida (7-4) was undeterred. Led by four McDouble-digit scoring performances from a scrappy, rag-tag lineup led by fellow McDonald’s All-American and sophomore guard Tre Mann. The Gators held a lead for 96% of the contest.
Omar Payne was Florida’s most frightening force on the floor Tuesday night. The sophomore forward logged nine points, nine rebounds, five blocks and one assist.
Payne was also the star of the game, smashing down a one-handed alley-oop slam courtesy of a Tyree Appleby floater with 3:10 to go in the first half.
Payne, who had on-and-off performances during Florida’s 1-3 skid against an all-SEC slate heading into the game, said he’s capable of Tuesday’s strong showing any day of the week.
“I just had to go out and do what I usually do,” he said. “I’m capable of doing it. I should be doing it every game.”
Mann and junior guard Noah Locke took charge for the Gators. Mann filled in his stat sheet with 12 points, four rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal, while Locke fried up 14 points, three rebounds and an assist.
The two were both Mr. Everything for Florida when the Gators walked onto the court with what felt like nothing against a 10-1 (now 10-2) Tennessee squad. All 11 of Mann’s field goals came from within the Gators three-point arches, greatly contributing to Florida’s 42-22 scoring advantage in the paint. Locke carried the Gators in minutes with 35.
Appleby commanded the defense to 11 steals against the Vols, who turned the ball over a total of 18 times.
With three thefts of his own, Appleby led Florida on the fast break, allowing the Gators to drive-thru the Volunteers’ defense. Florida outscored Tennessee 14-4 on fastbreak opportunities.
The Cleveland State transfer had 13 points, four rebounds and seven assists to add to his steals.
But Florida’s fast hands weren’t the only problem Tennessee faced offensively.
The Vols, who averaged 77 points per game heading into the matchup, scored a season-low 49 points shooting 29.1% from the field, including 16.7% from three-point land. Other contributing factors to Tennessee’s disappointing performance were getting out-rebounded 44-36 as well as the team’s 48% conversion rate from the free throw line.
Star junior guard Victor Bailey finished the contest with a team-worst -13 player efficiency rating on the back of a 1-12 shooting performance.
Tennessee’s 0.70 points per possession was the lowest mark under coach Rick Barnes, according to KenPom.
The Gators will look to surpass its largest upset win of the season when they travel up to play Georgia Saturday in Athens. Tipoff is at 2 p.m. and will stream on SEC Network+.
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