Let’s take a quick look at Five Things from Tennessee’s 67-58 loss to third-ranked Florida on Tuesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee senior forward Jeronne Maymon (News Sentinel photo)
The Vols (15-9, 6-5 SEC) fell in an early hole but stormed back to take a lead before the break. But the Gators (22-2, 11-0) flexed their muscles in the second half and gritted out a tough win in an extremely hostile environment.
FLORIDA IS GREAT BUT WAS A BIT MORE BEATABLE TONIGHT
Don’t get this twisted. Florida is a very, very, very good basketball team.
But the Gators weren’t invincible Tuesday night.
Tennessee went blow-for-blow with the nation’s third-ranked team nearly the entire night, and thanks to some big plays by the Vols and uncharacteristic mistakes by the Gators — particularly some missed bunnies — this should have gone down to the wire.
But it didn’t.
And it didn’t because Tennessee couldn’t take care of the ball.
Vols' Jarnell Stokes (KNS photo)
JERONNE MAYMON WON’T WANT TO WATCH THIS FILM
Speaking of failing to take care of the ball, there’s no other way to put this: Senior forward Jeronne Maymon was a self-inflicted sledgehammer on Tennessee’s offense all night.
Any player having eight turnovers in a game is rough. But any frontcourt player having eight turnovers in a game is borderline mind-boggling.
Maymon, an incredibly tough player who has gutted out several good performances this season despite knees that seem to be made of angel-hair pasta at this point, provided spark after spark on the defensive end. He collected nine rebounds, four steals and three blocked shots. But he single-handedly ended several offensive possessions with turnovers.
In Maymon’s defense, Tennessee’s guards should have been more open when their big men were hounded by double teams, especially when the extra defender came down from the perimeter.
But there’s no excuse for a frontcourt player having eight turnovers in a game. And Maymon knows that as well as anyone, but it didn’t help him Tuesday night.
Vols' Jordan McRae (KNS photo)
LAW OF AVERAGES CAUGHT UP TO VOLS
Tennessee shot 62.5 percent from the floor in the first half, and Florida shot 36.4 percent from the floor.
And Gators coach Billy Donovan admitted he was thrilled at halftime.
Because Florida trailed Tennessee by only one point.
The Vols had nine turnovers and were 1-of-5 from the free-throw line in the first half, but they still had a six-point lead with less than four minutes on the clock. But, again, they executed terribly in the final minute of a half and allowed an opponent to creep up on them. And they couldn’t afford to do that against a team as good as Florida.
And the law of averages suggested Tennessee wasn’t going to continue making nearly two-thirds of its shots after the break, because Florida actually had more clean looks than the Vols in the first half. Those numbers were going to change in the second half. They just were. No team was going to shoot that well for 40 minutes while having to settle for so many challenged looks.
Florida's Scottie Wilbekin (KNS photo)
It’s rare for a player to shoot 6-of-17 from the floor and be the best player on the court.
But that’s exactly what Florida senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin was in this game — at least from this vantage point, he was.
Wilbekin had a game-high 21 points and shot 10-of-12 from the free-throw line, and he picked a great time to hit his only 3-pointer of the game — a back-breaker with Tennessee’s best perimeter defender (Josh Richardson) in his face. That shot-clock-beating heave gave the Gators a 61-54 lead with 2:23 left.
As McRae aptly noted after the game, Wilbekin played exactly the way the leader of the nation’s third-ranked team should play down the stretch on the road. And he won the game for his team.
VOLS NEED TO START WINNING NOW
Tuesday wasn’t a do-or-die game for Tennessee.
But every regular-season game from this point might be.
The Vols’ margin for error to make the NCAA Tournament without winning the SEC Tournament — which, as every Tennessee fan knows, isn’t exactly a strong bet — is probably razor-thin at this point.
Starting with Saturday’s game at Missouri, the Vols must be impressive from this point forward.
Many analysts have suggested the SEC will probably get three teams in the NCAA Tournament. That’s anything but a sure thing, though. Aside from Florida and Kentucky, finding a third tournament-caliber team in this league is a tough task.
But Tennessee, by virtue of its non-conference schedule, has a better chance than most to be that third team.
But Tennessee can’t continue losing games.
Contact Wes Rucker at email@example.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247