Despite playing poorly for most of the night, Tennessee found itself leading Florida by six points with 10:40 to play. Then the Vols fell flat on their face as Florida dominated down the stretch to hand No. 2 Tennessee a disappointing, 67-54, loss in Gainesville.
Here are three quick takeaways on a Tennessee let down.
Pungent Start For Tennessee
Tennessee controlled the opening tip, Julian Phillips curled off a screen and was fouled on a shot at the basket. It took eight minutes for another good thing to happen for Tennessee.
The Vols started absolutely pungent at Florida, digging themselves a 17-4 hole thanks in large part due to a 15-0 Gators “kill shot”.
Tennessee looked lost out the gates, particularly on the offensive end where the Vols missed 10 of their first 11 shots while also turning the ball over four times. Zakai Zeigler was erratic to open the game and found himself sitting by Rick Barnes early.
The Vols weren’t terrible defensively but were a step slow. That led to some open looks from the perimeter and Florida knocked down its first two three-point attempts. Florida also got a bucket in transition, an are Barnes harped on ahead of the matchup.
Olivier Nkamhoua scored seven straight points as a part of a 9-0 Tennessee run that steadied the ship for the Vols. Tennessee got Florida’s lead down to one point, and even had three possessions with a chance to take the lead, before heading into the locker room down SIC points.
Tennessee was still in the game at halftime but dug itself a major hole for the second time in its last three road games.
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Vols’ Defense Keeps Them In Game
Tennessee’s defense is good enough to give the Vols a chance to win in games their offense struggles. And the Vols’ offense more than struggled in Gainesville Wednesday night. Even so, Tennessee’s defense was solid against Florida and kept them in the game.
Tennessee did a good job of limiting Florida star Colin Castleton in the first 27 minutes of the game. The All-SEC power forward isn’t Florida’s only offensive threat but he is the best one and the Gators’ offense is at their best when the ball runs through Castleton.
Castleton had just seven points with 13 minutes to play before scoring 13points from that point forward.
Limiting opponents’ best players is one of Tennessee’s elite defense’s greatest strengths. Vanderbilt’s Liam Robbins was the only leading scorer who matched his scoring average against Tennessee in SEC play until Castleton did it.
Florida ‘Kill Shots’ Kill Tennessee
A “kill shot” is when a team goes on a run of 10-0 or greater. College basketball teams win 81% of games they record more kill shots than their opponent.
Tennessee is one of the nation’s best teams at going on them and one of the nation’s best teams at avoiding them. The Vols did neither well at Florida.
Florida went on two “kill shots” run against Tennessee and they weren’t light ones either, combining to outscore 28-0 on the two runs. It was just the fourth and fifth “kill shots” against Tennessee all season. Two of the others came in the loss against Kentucky.
The Vols had runs of their own but none greater than 8-0. Florida’s runs came mostly because of Tennessee scoring droughts and offensive issues. Those scoring droughts have been a common theme of Rick Barnes coached teams but have been less of an issue this season.
They showed up in a big way Wednesday night in Gainesville as the Vols fell flat.
Tennessee returns home to Knoxville Saturday to host Bruce Pearl and No. 25 Auburn. Tip-off at Thompson-Boling Arena is at 2 p.m. ET with ESPN broadcasting the game.