3 Observations: No. 19 Tennessee 62, Florida 57

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    Photo credit: Allie Suber/RTI

    The Vols haven’t played a crisp game in two weeks now. It’s cost them games against Alabama and Georgia, and they had to fight tooth and nail to defeat South Carolina at home last week.

    And on Wednesday night, Tennessee found themselves slogging through another ugly performance as they hosted Florida in a pivotal conference match-up. And just like last week against South Carolina, the Vols found a way to win

    Tennessee survived their own shortcomings en route to a 62-57 victory over the Gators on Wednesday night. The Vols (20-7, 10-5) never could pull away by more than 10 points over Florida (17-11, 8-7), and the Gators fought back numerous times despite their own cold stretches.

    But when all was said and done, the Vols managed to emerge victorious. And the win gives them a two-game advantage over the third place team in the SEC. And there’s now a six-way tie for third place as well.

    Here are our three biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s 62-57 win over the Florida Gators.

    Welcome Back Grant Williams 

    On Saturday, Grant Williams had one of his worst performances in his career as the Vols fell to Georgia on the road. But on Wednesday night, Williams bounced back in a big way.

    If not for Grant Williams, Tennessee might not have won against the Gators on Wednesday. But thankfully for the Vols, Williams came to play. He led the team with 23 points and added six rebounds and an assist in a much better game than what he played on Saturday.

    Williams hit clutch free throws down the stretch and was the Vols’ go-to on offense in crunch time. He finished 7-of-8 from the free throw line and had the second-best plus/minus for the Vols in the game.

    Florida Beat Themselves

    Tennessee did enough to win, but Florida certainly didn’t help themselves either. The Gators didn’t score for almost the first five minutes of the game and had several extended droughts similar to that one throughout the game. Florida couldn’t capitalize on Tennessee’s droughts consistently enough either, and it cost them.

    Florida had 11 turnovers and shot just 56.3 percent from the free throw line. The Vols had 12 turnovers themselves, but the Gators managed just 10 points off those turnovers. Tennessee also shot 86.7 percent from the free throw line.

    The Gators nailed some clutch three late, but their three-point shooting was abysmal overall. They made just six of their 24 three-pointers and got outscored 32 to 28 in the paint.

    Tennessee led by as much as 10 a couple times, and Florida stormed back each time. But they ultimately couldn’t get all the way back. The Vols led for 38:37 of the 40 minutes of game time. The game was tied for 48 seconds, and Florida led for all of 35 seconds in the first half.

    The Vols won the game more than Florida gave it away. But the Gators certainly could’ve done more to help themselves out.

    Still Not Great

    A win is a win. You won’t find many Vol fans complaining as long as Tennessee keeps winning. But Wednesday night’s performance continued a troubling trend of the Vols not playing particularly well even in victories.

    Tonight, the Vols shot just 30 percent from three and were out-rebounded and out-hustled many times. Florida had more second-chance points, bench points, fast break points, steals, and blocks. But Tennessee still won.

    Over the last five games, the Vols are 3-2 and are averaging just 61 points per game. They’ve been lucky their schedule has gotten easier in that span as well, and that softening of the schedule may also account for some of the poor play. Perhaps the Vols aren’t as motivated as they once were.

    Whatever the case is, Tennessee needs to be careful that these ugly performances don’t follow them into March. Because if they do, then they won’t last long in the SEC or NCAA Tournament.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.