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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Florida is staggering toward a Southeastern Conference title, but a growing injury list has removed the aura of invincibility that surrounded the Gators for much of the season.
The eighth-ranked Gators' health woes continued Tuesday as they fell 64-58 to Tennessee for their second loss in three games. Florida forward Casey Prather went to the locker room in the closing minutes after taking a blow to the head under the basket. The injury will require further evaluation.
Junior forward Will Yeguette hasn't played for Florida since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Feb. 8. The Gators (22-5, 12-3 SEC) also were playing Tuesday without guard Michael Frazier II, who sustained a concussion Saturday in a 71-54 victory over Arkansas.
Florida's resulting lack of depth resulted in some tired legs and inaccurate shots. After making three of their first four 3-point attempts against Tennessee, the Gators were 1 of 13 the rest of the night.
"We don't have any excuses," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "When we line up, we line up and play. ... Was there fatigue we're battling? Sure. Were we small sometimes, and we got burned with a small lineup? Yes. But you know what? I always believe where there's a will, there's a way. There are things you've got to do to be able to overcome, so to speak."
They weren't able to overcome a huge performance from Tennessee's Jordan McRae.
McRae scored 27 points to carry Tennessee (17-10, 9-6) to its sixth consecutive victory. Jarnell Stokes added eight points and 14 rebounds as Tennessee outrebounded Florida 41-31 and won the lone regular-season meeting between these rivals. This marks the first time since 1964 that Florida and Tennessee aren't facing each other twice in the regular season.
Mike Rosario scored 16 points, Patric Young added 15 and Casey Prather had 10 for Florida.
"I feel like we expected to win this game," Stokes said. "After the game, I didn't even get that sort of 'upset' feeling. ... I felt coming into these games we expect to win. I'm celebrating because we won. I'm happy we won, but those are our expectations."
The importance of the game brought one of the most boisterous crowds of the season to Thompson-Boling Arena, and McRae energized the 19,567 fans with an early steal and dunk to open the scoring. Florida calmly responded with nine straight points and continued to lead for most of the first half.
But the Vols hung around and moved back in front just before halftime largely because of McRae, who was 7 of 12 from the field in the first half, including 3 of 7 from 3-point range.
"The only thing I thought we could have done better is that I thought we gave up one or two threes to him out of the press, which I thought hurt us a little bit," Donovan said. "Then, I think there were one or two plays where there were screens and we were late getting there. He made some tough shots, but he's a good player. Overall, I think we guarded them very, very well. The difference in the game was the rebounding - the offensive rebounding - and then our inability to make a shot."
Tennessee needed a big performance from McRae because Trae Golden and Stokes weren't able to contribute as they had for most of this winning streak.
Golden, the reigning SEC player of the week, shot 1 of 6 and scored just two points in the first half. He finished the night with eight points and two assists. Stokes, who entered the game with eight double-doubles in his last nine games, played just 24 minutes while battling foul trouble.
Florida scored the first five points of the second half to regain the lead at 37-35. When Stokes picked up his third foul with 17:06 left, the Gators seemed poised to take control.
It didn't happen.
McRae blocked a shot on one end of the court and got a dunk on the other end to tie the game with 16:34 left. Golden delivered a driving basket 40 seconds later to put the Vols back in front. The Vols stayed ahead the rest of the way.
"It just proves that we're a good team and that we can beat a quality opponent, like Florida," McRae said. "Florida is probably, obviously one of the best teams in the country, ranked top-10, so it's a big win for us, a statement win."
Florida's last hope faded when Tennessee's Josh Richardson drew a charge to nullify a basket by Rosario that would have cut the Vols' lead to 61-58 with 28.3 seconds remaining.
Tennessee was coming off the longest game in school history, a 93-85 victory at Texas A&M on Saturday that lasted four overtimes. But the Vols showed no signs of fatigue and actually wore down the shorthanded Gators in the second half.
"Those guys executed when they needed to," Rosario said. "They made shots. That was the difference in the game. We didn't get stops when we were supposed to get stops on the defensive end, and we didn't make shots when we needed to make shots. That's what it came down to."