Everything that could go wrong, went wrong for the Gators in Knoxville, Tennessee, when they lost 63-58 to the Tennessee Volunteers Saturday afternoon.
Florida, coming off a dominating home win against LSU, was a shell of itself for much of the game and couldn’t complete its third 19-point comeback of the season.
The Volunteers were known for their defense going into the game, they led the SEC in blocks (5.8) and coach Rick Barnes has a history of leading tough teams, according to UF coach Mike White.
“I think coach Barnes’ teams just consistently just play at a high level of intensity and with a lot of toughness for years and years,” White said on Friday. “So, we know it’s going to be very challenging.”
That toughness kept the Gators (18-11, 10-6 SEC) miserable in the first half when they went into halftime down 32-17 with 11 turnovers. They shot just 33 percent from the field and ended with their worst first-half scoring performance of the season.
Meanwhile, UT’s toughness showed in the paint. The Vols (16-13, 8-8 SEC) had 18 points down low in the first half all the while shooting 36 percent from three-point range.
At the half, Tennessee guard Josiah-Jordan James led all scorers with 10 points. James had a season average of seven points per game before Saturday.
Interestingly enough, there was not one point scored by either team’s bench before halftime.
Florida forward Kerry Blackshear Jr. had just five points in the first half as he continued his trend of getting in early foul trouble. He picked up two fouls and only played 11 minutes in the first half.
The graduate transfer picked up his third foul less than two minutes into the second half as the Gators continued to struggle. Those struggles helped mount a 19-point deficit.
Then a furious comeback began that was led by Noah Locke, Tre Mann and Blackshear Jr. once he re-entered the game. All three had not been playing their best basketball as of late.
Blackshear Jr. has had his foul trouble and Locke went into Knoxville with an ice-cold shooting touch and was one for his last seven from behind the arc. Tre Mann, a highly touted freshman, was used to scoring in high school and had struggled to find his role with Florida.
Mann is averaging five points this season and was asked if this year has been hard on him during media availability on Tuesday.
“Yes, it has,” Mann said. “It wasn’t what I expected. I thought I was going to be able to come in and make shots and score for my team, but I feel like I’m picking it up now, so it’s getting better.”
The freshman did everything he could for his team in the second half. He had nine points to go along with Locke’s 10.
The Gators cut it to just two points with over a minute to go, but a ferocious dunk from UT’s John Fulkerson extended the deficit to four. Then, Blackshear Jr. was fouled under the basket the next possession and converted the two free throws to make the score 60-58 with just 24.7 seconds left in the game.
After an intentional foul on Santiago Vescovi, the guard sunk both free throws to once again make it a two-possession ball game.
On an inbounds play with fourteen seconds left, Blackshear Jr. was given the ball under the basket and got Fulkerson off his feet with a pump fake but after some contact and a close block attempt from James, Blackshear’s layup didn’t go.
James, the Volunteers leading shot blocker, finished with two rejections, 12 points and eight rebounds in the well-rounded performance.
Tennessee was led by Fulkerson who had 22 points on 10-for-15 shooting.
It was a valiant effort from Blackshear Jr. who finished with 20 points — 15 in the second half — but it wasn’t enough as UF falls to 3-7 on the road.
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