Gators Bow Up Late in Upset of No. 2 Vols
04.02.2023 | 8:30 p.m
Gator Sports Network by LEARFIELD
4 Feb (Sat) / 8:30 p.m
Gainesville, Fla. – After a fabulous start and a quick double-digit lead, the Florida Gators found themselves a half-dozen behind the second-placed team in the country midway through the second half. Not only did the Tennessee visit have that big number before its name, the Volunteers also had the nation’s highest-rated defense, forcing the home team to miss eight of their last nine shots.
“We had a little moment there where things didn’t go the way we wanted,” said UF coach Todd Golden. “It was a great moment for us.”
Regarding the last part of this quote, Golden spoke of his team’s response. As with the surprise offensive breakout that turned that deficit into another double-digit lead and sent the Gators to a stunning and inspiring 67-54 loss by the Volunteers in their Southeastern Conference clash in front of a wild and rough Exactech Arena/O’Connell home threw crowd in the middle Wednesday night.
That in-game “great moment” was made even better post-game as Golden picked up his first signature win as a UF coach and the Gators (13-9, 6-3) earned a Gold Star win for their resume To rank the Vols (18-4, 7-2) alongside No. 2 Auburn last February as the highest-ranked opponent ever beaten at Gainesville.
First-year UF coach death golden receives his signature win post-game christening in the Gators locker room after just the second home win in basketball history in Florida against an opponent as high as No. 2, all but four snapped in the second half grabbed nine rebounds and had three assists to lead a balanced UF offense that did things to the Tennessee defense rarely done this season. The Vols came into play allowing just 34.5 percent shots from the floor, 22 from the 3-point line and just 54.5 points per game. The Gators shot nearly 44 percent on the night, made seven 3s at 35 percent, and posted a 12-plus on that legal score. They also went 18-for-24 from the free throw line.
Perhaps this is a good time to remind people that Florida started the night as the No. 8 defender in the country, according to the same advance stats from KenPom.com. That might not have been No. 1, but it was certainly Elite who went in and played to his account. The Vols shot just 27.9 percent for the game despite beating the Gators on the glass 43-36, including an 18-5 offensive end advantage. Tennessee attempted 20 more field goals (68-28) and still lost by 13.
“We knew this was going to be a dogfight,” said UF senior security guard Myreon Jones. “I think this game showed growth. Normally, when we get beaten on the boards, the game is ugly. This time we fought back. We didn’t let that discourage us.”
Fifth-year point guard Kyle Lofton added, “That just shows the potential of our team.”
UF’s three previous SEC game losses totaled eight points. The Gators, who had played one of the toughest game schedules in the country, were in another tight game against some very good teams they thought would get away.
But not this one.
“That was a desperate game, we have a tough schedule with this small track we have here and we need to win some games. We all know that, everyone knows that,” Castleton said, referring to Saturday night’s loss in fifth-ranked Kansas State and that monster against No. 2 wedged in upcoming road games this Saturday in Kentucky and next week in fourth-ranked Alabama is. “Just having that guts, that toughness, to come down with rebounds, to bet on loose balls — which we didn’t do [earlier] in the second half when they went on the run – but we could just claw and fight and prevailed.
Lofton scored 12 of his 14 second-half points with four assists. Fifth-year keeper Myreon Jones had nine points, including a second-half clutch 3 during the comeback, and sophomore keeper Will Richard added nine points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.
Tennessee was led by point guard Zakai Zeigler with 15 points, but the UF defense limited Gator-Killer guard Santiago Vescovi to just two of 12 shots for the game and 1-for-6 from the 3-point line.
“We’re better than that,” said UT coach Rick Barnes. “But not tonight, we weren’t.”
UF guard Will Richard calls UT forward Olivier Nkamhoua en route to nine points and seven rebounds.
When Tennessee came in, it had kept four of its eight SEC opponents scoreless until the first media timeout, but when the first stoppage of that game came, Florida had an eight-point run that eventually rose to 15 and the Gators with 17-4 lead . However, the Vols were slow cutting, coming within a point four minutes from time at 22-21 before the Gators grabbed the last five points of the half and led 27-21 at the break.
UF led 34-28 more than four minutes into the second half when an old-time 3-point play from freshman forward Julian Phillips paired with a pair of 3s from Zeigler were the big hitters of a 16-4 run by the Vols were. The final three points came when Kowacie fouled Reeves Vescovi’s attempt at arch. After a time out, Vescovi returned and dropped all three free throws to give Tennessee a 44-38 lead, 10:40.
And so began the “great moment” Golden was referring to.
The Vols were four up when Jones drilled a 3-pointer and after a subsequent UF stop, freshman guard Riley Kugel (4 points, 6 rebounds) transitioned and completed a break to put his team’s lead at 47- 46 to restore. After another stop, Castleton got the ball at the high post and drove defender Jonas Aidoo to the right side of the lane, tied the ball with his right hand and slammed Aidoo into the back wall to land in a layup, pull the foul and after that a stoppage, sinking his free throw to put the Gators to four. The game was just the middle of 13 straight points, including a 3-pointer of Lofton’s second chance.
UF Point Guard Kyle Lofton (11) meets one of his two big 3-pointers in the second half. When Castleton converted a second 3-point play just under five minutes later and followed him up with a tip-in on the next possession, the UF lead was 11 within three minutes and the O’Dome was a madhouse.
There would be no comeback as Tennessee missed their last five shots and nine of their last 10, sparking a celebration this team, these coaches and their fans have been waiting for all season.
Yes, that was a “big moment” too.
“I think it’s a confirmation that we can beat anyone if we play our skills,” said Golden. “Obviously we played very well tonight and that would be a high standard to hold every night, but now we’ve shown the ability to do it. The belief comes from that. It’s not about potential anymore. We.” proved we can beat one of the best teams in the country.”
And the possibilities for the season have suddenly become more interesting.