Florida basketball score, takeaways: Tennessee holds on despite Gators’ massive comeback

By Adam Silverstein
February 29, 2020
Florida basketball score, takeaways: Tennessee holds on despite Gators’ massive comeback

Image Credit: GatorsMBK / Twitter

If you thought that Florida Gators basketball had actually, finally turned a corner this season after its dominant win over LSU earlier this week … think again. Florida trailed by as many as 19 points and eventually fell 63-58 on Saturday afternoon to a Tennessee Volunteers team that was basically playing .500 basketball entering the contest with UF putting forth one of its worst efforts of the entire 2019-20 campaign in the first half.

The Gators (18-11, 10-6 SEC) saw their hopes of improving their seeding in the SEC Tournament and locking up a sure-fire spot in the NCAA Tournament dissipate after a horrendous first half in which the Vols (16-13, 8-8 SEC) locked down their visitors defensively. Florida then went ahead and put forth one of its massive comeback attempts, but Tennessee’s defense refused to allow it to be successful.

What went down in UF’s latest loss, and what will it mean for the team going forward? Let’s have a closer look with some fastbreak takeaways.

It was over when … Vols forward John Fulkerson followed a missed shot with a thunderous dunk, putting his team up 60-56 with 46 seconds to play. That slam by Fulkerson followed an incredible three-pointer in which he caught an inbounds pass with 2 seconds remaining on the shot clock and drained the first triple of his career in turnaround fashion. Fulkerson’s five points ended a stunning comeback attempt by the Gators, which outscored their hosts 25-7 over 9:09. Florida went from trailing by 19 to facing only a 1-point deficit with 2:55 left.

However, the Gators were never able to tie the game or take the lead. After opening the second half 16 of 24 from the field and 5 of 7 from three, Florida missed its final five shots of the game. The deficit and Tennessee’s defense were simply too much for the visitors to overcome, and that’s UF’s own fault considering how it played in the opening half. Fulkerson finished with a game-high 22 points, going 10 of 15 from the field.

First-half failures: There was no worse 20-minute stretch of basketball played this season by Florida than the one it put on display to open Saturday’s game. The Gators committed nine turnovers in the first 13:33 and 11 overall in the first half; consequently, they attempted just 18 field goals to 29 for the Vols. Even worse, Florida missed eight straight shots to end the half, unable to make a basket over the final 9:49. It posted a season-low 17 points and was outscored 16-3 to end the half, taking a 15-point deficit into the break. The game was essentially over before the second half buzzer sounded despite the attempted comeback.

Exceptional efforts: Redshirt senior F Kerry Blackshear Jr. did his best to match Fulkerson, and he largely did with an incredible second-half performance. Blackshear scored nine straight points, 11 of 13 and 13 overall during the aforementioned 25-7 stretch. Unfortunately, due to again being in constant foul trouble, he played just 26 minutes in the game. Still, Blackshear finished with team-highs of 20 points and nine rebounds, making all five of his free throws.

Sophomore guard Noah Locke found his stroke again and scored 15 points on 3 of 6 shooting from long range, while freshman G Tre Mann made some big plays late in the second half and had nine points.

Odds and ends: Florida has lost four straight games to Tennessee and four of the last five; it is on an 0-4 stretch in Knoxville … the Gators committed 14 turnovers in the game, one off their season-high and the seventh time this season they have reached that mark or worse … Florida actually won the rebounding battle (31-24) and outscored or nearly matched Tennessee off turnovers (14-17), on second chances (10-4), from the bench (11-0) and in the paint (30-32) despite its massive first-half issues … the Vols’ five starters played an average of 37.4 minutes out of 40 in regulation and scored 100 percent of the team’s points with the bench going scoreless in 13 combined game minutes … Gators sophomore F Keyontae Johnson had one of his worst games of the season (six points, six rebounds) just days after his best game of the season (25 points, 11 rebounds) … Florida is 1-3 this season when Johnson has six points or fewer … the Gators fell to 1-8 this season when scoring fewer than 66 points

What it means: Though Florida may not technically be in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament at this time, it certainly reestablished legitimate questions about its candidacy just days after seemingly locking up a non-bubble seed. The Gators also ruined their chances of a bye in the SEC Tournament, which they likely could have locked up by winning two of their final three games. With a road contest upcoming and Kentucky in the final game of the regular season, that now seems unlikely.

What’s next? Florida will look to salvage its regular season when it travels to face Georgia on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in a game that will air live nationally on ESPNU. UF beat UGA 81-75 back on Feb. 5, overcoming a program-record 22-point deficit to do so.

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