Short-handed Gators fall to Tennessee again, 75-70
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida coach Billy Donovan saw this coming.
After a week of poor practices, including a day in which he brought his team back to try again, Donovan was hardly surprised to see his eighth-ranked Gators come out flat — again — against Tennessee.
Bradley Beal and Kenny Boynton scored 16 points apiece, but the short-handed Gators failed to bounce back from a 20-point loss at top-ranked Kentucky and dropped consecutive games for the first time in nearly two years, losing 75-70 to the Volunteers on Saturday.
"I think these are the experiences where you get kind of hardened a little bit and our team needs to be hardened a little bit," Donovan said. "We need to be more battle-tested, battle-weary, so to speak."
Trae Golden led Tennessee with 17 points. Jeronne Maymon added 15 points and 11 rebounds as the Volunteers (13-12, 5-5 Southeastern Conference) won for the first time in eight road games this season and swept Florida for the first time since 2009. They also snapped Florida's home-winning streak at 19 games.
"This is one of the most impressive wins of the season," said guard Kenny Hall, who eight points. "We got on them early and made sure we had the lead for most of the game."
It was a downright debacle for Florida, which lost consecutive games for the first time since the end of the 2009-10 season.
Coming off a lopsided loss at Kentucky and wearing gray uniforms to commemorate the program's back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007, the Gators (19-6, 7-3) trailed by double digits early and never mustered anything resembling a legitimate comeback.
"Where we're going we might be in the NIT if we don't just turn around right now," Beal said. "If that didn't fit into our minds and really stick in our minds, then I don't know what's going to happen. We really have to turn around, and I think we'll do that."
Florida's biggest problem was it played most of the game without their top two reserves, guard Mike Rosario and forward Will Yeguete. Forward Cody Larson also was out because of a stomach virus.
Rosario missed the game because of a hip pointer, and Yeguete suffered a head injury early in the first half when he slammed into the padding at the base of the basket. He was briefly knocked out, then went to the locker room for stiches. He failed a concussion test during halftime, and Donovan said he is out indefinitely.
The Gators essentially were left with a seven-man rotation that included seldom-used guard Casey Prather.
Nonetheless, Donovan blamed the loss on the team's recent practice habits.
"Just guys maturity-wise being focused on what we're doing and not getting distracted by, 'I got fouled on this play,' and being upset 'cause they got fouled," Donovan said. "I've gotta find a better way to get them to be more productive than we've been. And you know what? I've seen them do it. I've seen them do it as a team. It's not like they've never done it. They've done it.
"But you know what? It's that maturity level. Sometimes we do it, sometimes we don't. And we went up against a team tonight that was veteran, experienced, deep and hardened and that part of us got exposed today."
The Volunteers took it to Florida from the start, driving the lane repeatedly and getting big men Patric Young and Erik Murphy in foul trouble. Tennessee finished with 36 points in the paint, 17 second-chance points and 12 offensive rebounds.
Florida, which leads the nation in 3-pointers, made 11 of 29 from behind the arc. But most of those came late.
Murphy drained two 3s in the final minute, trimming Tennessee's lead to 71-64 with 18.3 seconds remaining. But the Volunteers closed it out from the free throw line.
Tennessee used a 15-2 run midway through the first half to take a 24-12 lead and never let the Gators back in it.
The biggest difference was Florida's depth. With a short bench, the Gators had few substitutes and no real chance to press and try to force tempo.
"It's an eye-opener," Boynton said. "We could wake up and play or we can be in the NIT. ... The main thing is practice. We haven't been focused in practice and it's carried over into the game and it's showing."