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Free throws push Florida past Vols

ATLANTA — A frustrated Bruce Pearl walked up to the podium inside the Georgia Dome, sat down and summed up the situation in one sentence.

Senior center Brian Williams lowered his head in disgust after Florida's Friday night win over Tennessee.

“It wasn’t a game for the purists,” Pearl said.

No, it certainly wasn’t.

Tennessee lost another second-half lead Friday night in the Georgia Dome, and this one eliminated the Volunteers from the SEC tournament.

Regular-season champion Florida dominated down the stretch and cruised to an 85-74 win over the Vols.

The Gators (25-6) advanced to a Saturday semifinal against Vanderbilt, and the Vols (19-14) boarded a bus back for Knoxville a little more than 40 hours from learning their NCAA tournament destination.

And if UT plays the way it did in the second half against Florida, it won’t be a particularly pleasant experience.

“When you allow a team to score 56 points in the second half and shoot the way they shot and send them go the foul line as often as we sent them, you’ve got no chance to win,” Pearl said.

So, in short, don’t do anything the Vols did after halftime against the Gators.

UT's Bruce Pearl was whistled for a technical Friday night during this second-half tirade.

Florida shot four free throws in the first half.

It shot 33 free throws in the second half.

Florida shot 44.8 percent in the second half.

It shot 82.4 percent in the second half.

Florida scored 29 points in the first half.

It scored 56 points in the second half.

“The first half, they let us play, and we were being really aggressive on ball screens and everything,” said Pearl’s son, senior forward Steven Pearl. “I feel like we did the same thing in the second half, and they called it a little more close in the second half, and we didn’t adjust to it. That’s on us some. We have to see how officials are calling the game and adjust to them. We just kept being aggressive, and we just kept sending them to the line.

“Obviously, that killed us. That’s probably what ended up losing us the game.”

Tobias Harris's game-high 25 points weren't enough for the Vols on Friday night.

The Vols, as they’re prone to do, played another erratic game.

UT trailed by 11 points in the first seven minutes, took the lead by ending the first half on a 16-2 run and faded late in the second half.

Freshman forward Tobias Harris, who scored a game-high 25 points, hit a 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds to close UT’s big spurt and give the Vols a 34-29 halftime lead.

“We were feeling good (at halftime),” Harris said. “We came back, and we just knew we had to come out with the same energy and the same fire in the second half. And we didn’t do that.”

The Gators quickly tied the score at 36-all in the second half, but Harris scored inside to cap a run that gave the Vols a 42-36 lead.

Florida didn’t take back the lead until Kenny Boynton made all three free throws after a foul by Vols senior guard Josh Bone. That gave the Gators a 47-46 advantage they slowly increased from that point forward.

“There's no way I fouled him. There's just no way,” Bone said. “He fell into me. There’s nothing I could do. I mean ... he just fell into me.”

That’s how much of the disjointed second half felt for the Vols, who were whistled for seven fouls before the break and 21 afterward.

Tennessee guards Melvin Goins and Scotty Hopson left the Georgia Dome floor in frustration after a third loss this season to rival Florida.

Florida, which entered the bonus before the first media timeout of the second half, was whistled for four fouls before the break and 12 afterward.

Bruce Pearl was given a technical with 11:20 left, when he thought Steven Pearl was fouled driving to the rim. UT had been whistled for nine fouls to Florida’s two at that point.

“I don’t know, man. I don’t know,” Vols sophomore guard Skylar McBee said. “You can’t blame referees for losing games. I think the referees this year have done a really good job, but it just seemed really inconsistent from the first half to the second half. I didn’t feel like we played defense any different. It just seemed like we got to play aggressive in the first half, and then we just ... we didn’t get to play as aggressive in the second half.”

“Obviously it’s hard, but that’s something we have to adjust to. You come out there in the second half with a certain mentality, and you go out there and do the same thing, and it’s, ‘Bam, bam, bam,’ and they’re in the bonus. It’s hard to come back on a team when every time you foul them, they’re going to shoot two free throws.”

Added UT senior point guard Melvin Goins: "You just never know when you can be aggressive and when you have to back off. You're always second-guessing. It messes with you. But we’ve just got to learn how to adjust to it, and how to play through it.”

Harris said the Vols should be used to those situations by this point.

“They got calls, and they got to the free-throw line,” Harris said. “As a team, we’ve faced that all season. Every home game, the other team has gone to the line a lot. We can’t use that as an excuse anymore. We’ve faced that all season. Nothing’s changed.”

Williams, who pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds, said the Vols should only focus on “what we can control.”

And, as Williams then added, “there’s a lot of things we can do better, and a lot of things we should do better.”

“It’s been the same thing all season,” Williams said. “When we’re away from our bench, the ball screen coverage is wrong, and we’re down 9-2 in fouls in the first four minutes, so we couldn’t play as aggressive in the second half, and that made a huge difference.

“They shot 80 percent in a half. I don’t think you can beat any team in the country doing that.”

Contact Wes Rucker at wrucker@247sports.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247

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