Florida’s won a few recent games with offense, but today’s test from Tennessee showed that it’s defense that really wins games, not offense.
And not flopping, mind you, Antonio Barton.
Patric Young scored 16, Scottie Wilbekin added 14, Florida limited Tennessee to just 14 second half points and the Gators stifled Tennessee for the third time this year. The three game sweep of the Vols is the second in the last four years, and rights the ship rather nicely after suffering a three game losing streak to these same Vols coming into this year.
The final of the three wins was probably the hardest.
After Florida jumped out early, the Vols took the lead and never let it go until very late in the game. So why don’t we fast forward to that part of the game, because that was the only part that was any fun for Florida? Quickly, I’ll run through some of the lowlights of the Tennessee-leading portion of the game: Tennessee’s lead spanned as much as ten, Florida pulled down exactly zero offensive rebounds and turned it over 11 times.
But Tennessee couldn’t pull away because they had their own offensive deficiencies. Jordan McRae, Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon combined for 38 points; the Vols’ next highest scorer had 4. Florida finished with 13 turnovers, but Tennessee topped that with 16. The Vols also shot an icy 2-13 from three point land- a three digit percentage that’s not even good for bowling.
With even one more dependable scorer to lean on, Tennessee likely pulls away from Florida and never lets them back into the game. Without the myriad of turnovers, Tennessee likely gets more good looks on offense that result in points. With just two more made threes, Tennessee turns a 10 point lead into a 16 point lead- a deficit that Florida has not had to deal with yet this season.
So with both teams bumbling and stumbling their ways up and down the court, somebody had to take over. Today, that was Florida- mainly by default.
Tied at 45, Jeronne Maymon was called for a foul on Patric Young down low. Instead of walking away as all players are coached to do, Maymon fought it, and was rewarded a technical foul for his efforts. Four straight free throws later, the Gators had a 49-45 lead. After Stokes split a pair of free throws, McRae hit a three to tie it back up. But just like they’ve done all year, the Gators responded. This time, it came in the form of Patric Young hitting a jumper and then Casey Prather making the Vols pay for fouling him by hitting both free throws to put Florida up 35-49 with 1:21 to play.
Then, on Florida’s next possession, came a rather interesting play. A Mack truck with a drunk driver behind the wheel veered off of I-75, into downtown Atlanta, somehow crashed right through the gates of the Georgia Dome and ran right over Antonio Barton. At least that’s what it looked like based on Barton’s reaction. In reality, Scottie Wilbekin was called for a foul for swinging a phantom elbow at Barton. Long story short, Barton’s act made Leonardo DeCaprio proud, Tennessee got the ball and Barton gave a little smile as if to say, “Yeah, I earned that call with my little acting job there. I’m proud of myself.” Unfortunately for Barton and Tennessee, Armanti Moore missed a three, Florida got the rebound and it was all over.
So yeah, who’s smiling now, Barton?
Give Tennessee credit, though. They were extremely physical down low, and they really did a great job bottling up Florida’s biggest outside threat, Michael Frazier. They made Florida really work for this win, which has to make Gator fans feel that much better.
Tomorrow, the Gators will face Kentucky for the SEC Championship. The Wildcats have beaten the Gators three out of the four times in the SEC Championship Game, including the last one in 2011, though the Gators have beaten Kentucky twice this year, which is perhaps the more relevant stat. You have to think Florida should win, mainly because Tennessee is the more physical team and Florida passed that test. Basketball is about matchups, and I think the Gators match up with Kentucky better than they do Tennessee- a team, may I remind you, Florida is already 3-0 against- on a neutral floor.
Matchups aside, though, Florida’s got to expect a fight. They got one from Missouri, and they got one from Tennessee. They won both of those games.
Can they win one more and collect a sweep of the SEC Championship trophies?