GAINESVILLE -- After struggling to hold on and get a win after struggling yet again despite have a big lead at one point in the Alabama game on Thursday night, Gators coach Billy Donovan decided it was time to sit down and have a little talk with his players.
“I think you’ve got to try to create these situations where you’ve got to be desperate,’’ Donovan said after Florida jumped on Tennessee then blew the Vols out, 67-41 on Saturday. “And a lot of times you’ve got to be desperate on each possession. And I think human nature is you always get a little complacent when you look at the scoreboard.’’
The desperate attitude paid off with the Gators first win against the Vols since March of 2011,
The No. 6 Gators (17-2) extended their home court winning streak to 26 and handed the Vols (12-7) their worst defeat this season. Tennessee’s previous low was 56 points vs. Texas A&M and had won the last three meetings against Florida.
It was the Vols’ worst loss to the Gators since a 95-57 defeat on Jan. 10, 2004.
Adding insult to injury, leading scorer Jordan McRae was held to five points after coming in with a 19.2 average and was shut out in the second half. He finished just 1 of 15 from the field.
“I think like most scorers, if he gets going early in games he becomes very difficult to stop because he’s got really good range and size,’’ Donovan said. “I thought we made him take some tough shots early. Outside the one play where we gave him the 3, I thought most of the shots we made him take were really difficult. He didn’t really have a lot of wide open looks, most of his shots were challenged.’’
Florida’s Mike Frazier, the third-best 3-point shooter in the SEC, hit 3 of 5 behind the arc to finish with a team-high 17. Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes was the only Volunteer player to score in the first nine minutes plus in the second half and finished with 16 and 10 rebounds.
No one else was in double figures for the Vols. Scottie Wilbekin had 13 for the Gators, followed by Casey Prather with 12 and Patric Young’s 10.
“We came out with great energy and played with passion the whole game,’’ Frazier said. “That’s what we needed to do, we needed to play tough the whole game.’’
Florida, which won its 11th straight, shot 48.1 percent from the floor and turned the ball over just six times. But it was a crunching defense that took control of the game. Tennessee shot a season-low 26.8 percent from the field, including a season-worst 1 of 19 behind the arc. The Gators started the game by forcing the ball inside with drives and dunks and finished with 38 points in the paint.,
The Volunteers, who had only two field goals in the final 10-plus minutes of the first half, trailed 26-19 at the break.
Florida’s defense, ranked in the top dozen nationally in scoring defense at 59.8 points a game, held Tennessee to 26.9 percent shooting in the opening 20 minutes. The Vols hung tough however with Stokes taking up some of the slack with inside points (with 8 of UT’s first 15).
Tennessee, which finished with its season-low in scoring, led 14-13 after a Stokes dunk at 9:42. But a dry spell of almost nine minutes allowed Florida to piece together a 13-3 run to take the largest lead of the half at 26-17. UT had just two field goals in final 10 minutes of the first half. The Gators were able to build an advantage with drives largely by guard Wilbekin, who had seven points during the big run.
Florida scored 18 of its points in the opening 20 minutes in the paint.
At the outset of the second half, Frazier hit two big 3-pointers, forward Will Yeguete had a dunk, forward Dorian Finney-Smith had back-to-back baskets and guard Kasey Hill hit a jumper to finish off a 16-4 run that made it 42-23 with less than 13 minutes to go.
“We just fell apart,’’ Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We couldn’t get any production offensively.’’