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3 Observations: Tennessee 63, Florida 58

(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

It’s not often a team finishes a game with zero bench points, gets outrebounded, and gets outscored in second-chance points and still manages to win. But that’s exactly what happened for the Vols on Saturday.

Tennessee (16-13, 8-8 SEC) continued their winning ways against Florida (18-11, 10-6), gutting out a 63-58 victory over the Gators in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday afternoon. The Vols have now won four-straight games against Florida in men’s basketball, and UT has beaten the Gators in five of the last six match-ups between the two teams.

But Saturday’s victory was far from a normal win for Tennessee.

The Vols held a 19-point lead with 12 minutes to go in the game, but Tennessee’s offense suddenly went stagnant, and Florida caught fire on offense. In a matter of about nine minutes, Florida had cut Tennessee’s lead to just one point.

But thanks to John Fulkerson’s clutch baskets and some solid defensive play, Tennessee managed to hang on and not blow another huge lead.

The first half was dominated by Tennessee, as the Vols held the Gators to just 17 points and forced them to turn the ball over 11 times. Florida was just 6-of-18 from the floor in the first half, while the Vols made 14 of their 29 field goal attempts and led 32-17.

To start the second half, it looked like it would be more of the same for Tennessee, as the Vols opened up the half by extending their lead to 17 points, then to 18, then to 19.

But Florida wouldn’t go away quietly, and Tre Mann, Noah Locke, and Kerry Blackshear spurred the Gators’ comeback.

In the end, though, Tennessee had just enough left in the tank to hold on.

Four Vols finished with double-digit points, and John Fulkerson led the way with 22 points. Jordan Bowden added 10 points, and Santiago Vescovi added 11 points and four assists.

Josiah-Jordan James came into Saturday’s game having scored just 13 points total over his last four games. He finished Saturday’s game with 12 points, adding eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks, and a steal.

Kerry Blackshear finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, and Locke added 15 points on 3-of-6 shooting from three. But their efforts weren’t enough, as the Vols held on for the upset.

Here are our three biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s five-point win over Florida in Knoxville.

Not This Time

Last Saturday, Tennessee had an epic meltdown on the road against Auburn, allowing the Tigers to erase a 17-point lead thanks to an 18-0 run. Auburn ended up beating the Vols despite UT’s seemingly commanding lead in the second half.

This Saturday, it looked like history was about to repeat itself, only this time the collapse was happening at home.

Tennessee’s lead over Florida climbed to 19 points with 12 minutes to go in the game after a John Fulkerson slam. But then the Gators’ offense finally came alive and started to find a groove by attacking the basket and getting threes both, and UT’s 48-29 lead was suddenly just a 55-54 lead with 2:55 left.

But unlike against Auburn, the Vols didn’t let the Gators take the lead.

Josiah-Jordan James and Yves Pons came up huge on the defensive end of the floor down the stretch for the Vols, and John Fulkerson was a force on offense in the second half. Fulkerson pushed UT’s lead back to four with his first career made three-pointer as the shot clock expired on Tennessee’s next possession, and a dunk by Fulky with 46 seconds remaining ended up being the decisive bucket.

Things looked ugly late in the game for Tennessee, but this time they managed not to completely fold. Florida had twice erased 20-point deficits this season to come back and win, but the Vols’ 19-point lead in the second half was just barely too much to overcome for the Gators this time.

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Big John

The first half saw freshman Josiah-Jordan James play some of the best basketball he’s played for the Vols this season, but the second half was all about John Fulkerson.

The redshirt junior forward put Tennessee’s offense on his back in the second half, scoring 16 of his 22 points in the final half of play. Fulkerson also ripped down two offensive rebounds. Fulkerson scored over half of the Vols’ second half points, as the rest of UT’s team combined to score 15 points in the second half.

Not only did Fulkerson hit shots in the lane and slam home some dunks, but he also hit arguably the most impressive shot in the game.

With the shot clock winding down and Florida trailing by just one point, Fulkerson launched up a three-point attempt, just his second career three-point shot in college.

The result? Fulkerson’s first made three-pointer as a Vol.

That bucket gave the Vols a 58-54 lead, and Fulkerson gave the Vols the decisive edge over a minute later when he slammed a putback dunk to make it 60-56 with 46 seconds to go.

Fulkerson finished the game with 22 points, two rebounds, an assist, and a steal.

Saturday’s game marked the third time this season Fulkerson has eclipsed the 20-point mark in a game, and his 10 made field goals are the most he’s ever made in a game as a Vol.

Barnes Owns Mike White

Years ago, Tennessee tried to hire Mike White as their head basketball coach. Instead, White opted to stay at Louisiana Tech, and UT went with Donnie Tyndall. After Tyndall was fired after one season, the Vols hired Rick Barnes, and that same offseason saw Florida hire White as their head coach.

Since then, White has been tormented time and time again by the Vols.

Rick Barnes improved to 5-1 against Mike White with Saturday’s win. White has yet to see one of his Florida teams win in Thompson-Boling Arena, and the Vols have now won four-straight games against White’s Gators.

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