GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - JaJuan Smith scored 23 points and Chris
Lofton added 21 as No. 4 Tennessee overcame a 16-point deficit to
beat Florida 89-86 on Wednesday night.
The Volunteers (27-3, 13-2 Southeastern Conference) set a school
record for victories and may have knocked the two-time defending
national champions out of the NCAA tournament picture.
The Gators (21-9, 8-7) have lost six of their last 10 and might
need to win the SEC tournament to earn a 10th consecutive NCAA
They also might want to avoid facing Tennessee in the conference
The Volunteers overcame a 13-point deficit to beat the Gators
104-82 in Knoxville last month and dug themselves out of an even
bigger hole Wednesday.
Florida had two chances to send it to overtime, though.
Dan Werner committed an offensive foul on the first try. Then,
Jai Lucas tipped the inbound pass off Smith's leg, which gave the
Gators the ball back with 6.9 seconds to play.
Nick Calathes got the ball and took a deep 3-pointer that
ricocheted off the back of the rim.
Calathes led Florida with 24 points and nine assists, while
Marreese Speights added 21 points and seven rebounds.
Tennessee, which trailed 35-19 midway through the first half,
started slicing into the lead after halftime.
Tyler Smith converted a three-point play, then made two spinning
shots in the lane that helped the Volunteers trim it to 55-49.
Then Lofton and JaJuan Smith got hot from 3-point range.
Lofton's first 3, a wide-open shot from the elbow, made it
63-58. His second, an off-balance shot with a defender in his face,
got it to 69-68.
Smith's two 3s were equally impressive. After he gave the
Volunteers their first lead of the game, 70-69, with a layup, he
hit 3s on consecutive possessions. Both came a step or two behind
the line and with a defender right there.
Tennessee extended the lead to 79-69 on Wayne Chism's reverse
layup, but the Gators got right back in it.
Werner and Calathes hit 3-pointers, then Werner added a floater
in the lane that made it 83-81.
Walter Hodge had a chance to tie the game with two free throws,
but missed the second.
The Vols looked like they might blow the lead again when JaJuan
Smith missed two free throws with 44.1 seconds remaining. But Tyler
Smith got the rebound and banked it in to put them back up 87-85.
Tennessee hung on from there.
Florida, playing with the kind of passion coach Billy Donovan
said his team had lacked most of the season, put together one of
its best halves of the season to start the game.
The Gators made their first nine shots, including three
3-pointers and a jumper from Hodge, and led 23-10 before the game
was 7 minutes old.
The Volunteers kept losing track of Hodge in the corner,
Calathes kept finding him and Hodge kept draining shots.
Calathes was another big key to the fast start.
His dribble penetration forced the Vols to rotate, and then he
dished to open teammates. It led to two easy baskets for Speights
and two 3s for Dan Werner.
Florida pushed the lead to 16 points on Speights' baseline
jumper and the Gators looked like they might pull away from there.
But Tennessee trimmed the deficit to 10 on several occasions,
taking advantage of Florida's don't-give-up-a-3 defense and finding
teammates around the basket.