Florida finally faced a real adversary in SEC play.
And like they’ve done to other adversaries throughout the season, the Gators overcame it.
Kevaughn Allen dropped in 23, Justin Leon added 19, Canyon Barry chipped in 15 more and the Gators pulled away late to knock off Tennessee, 83-70. It’s Florida’s fifth win in the last six games against Tennessee, and more importantly, puts the Gators at 3-0 in the SEC for the fourth time in the last five years.
Don’t let that final score fool you. Florida struggled most of the way.
The Gators opened the game by turning it over five times in the first six minutes, and then turned it over four more times in the rest of the first half. Worse yet, many of those nine first half turnovers were live ball giveaways, and they resulted in 14 Tennessee points on the ensuing fast breaks.
Florida also struggled to shoot the ball in the first half. The Gators could only muster 25 points through the first seventeen minutes, including just 34% shooting in that stretch. And in a back and forth game in which neither team could pull ahead by more than three, the Gators appeared to be in trouble when Tennessee’s Detrick Mostella nailed a three to put the Vols up 31-25 near the end of the half.
But then the Gators did something they haven’t done in three years. They made adjustments and rallied back.
Florida proceeded to shoot a blistering 73% in the second half, including all seven three pointers and limited themselves to two turnovers the rest of the game. The game remained close as Tennessee was somewhat able to match the Gators’ frenetic second half scoring pace for awhile, but then the Gators completely took over.
More specifically, Allen took over.
With the score 60-59, Allen proceeded to bury the Vols with a blizzard of threes in the final eight minutes. First came the one that gave the Gators a little breathing room. Then he hit another one a couple minutes later to increase the lead to seven. Less than a minute after that, Allen dropped in a third from outside the arc, quelling a short Tennessee run to put Florida up by six. And then with 1:17 to go, he hit the dagger.
This game showed me some real signs of promise, even though it came against a team of clearly lesser caliber. (Tennessee is just 8-7 on the year.) Florida is going to have bad games, likely against bad competition, and they’re going to need to find ways to win those games.
And because they were able to do it last night, it bodes well for them for similar tests in the future.