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Vols shooters go cold in loss to No. 6 Gators

January 25th, 2014 8:26 pm by MARK LONG, AP Sports Writer

Vols shooters go cold in loss to No. 6 Gators

Florida forward Dorian Finney-Smith (10) gets tangled up with Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes (5) during the first half Saturday in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo)

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon were double- and triple-teamed just about every time they touched the ball.

No. 6 Florida was trying to force anyone else to take shots — a defensive scheme that worked to perfection in a 67-41 victory Saturday.

Stokes finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds — his 10th double-double of the season — but little else went right for the Volunteers.

“They basically said, ‘We will not let you score inside,’ ” Stokes said. “They forced us to hit shots.” 

And the Vols failed miserably.

Florida held Tennessee (12-7, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) to a season low in points and shooting from the field (27 percent). The Vols’ backcourt really struggled, with leading scorer Jordan McRae, Antonio Barton and Josh Richardson combining to make 2 of 29 shots.

“They turned us over, they sped us up, they did a great job,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “We forced some shots, but you give that defense credit for doing that.” 

Florida snapped Tennessee’s three-game winning streak in the series, something the Gators had been looking forward to for months.

“We had a little chip on our shoulder because they kicked our butts the last three times,” said Florida center Patric Young, who scored 10 points. “I can actually remember each loss, and the last one was the worst because they were on the court celebrating. They punched us, and we didn’t respond well the last three years.

“Tonight, we were so ready for whatever they had to throw at us. We were all locked in.” 

Michael Frazier II led Florida with 17 points, and Scottie Wilbekin added 13.

The Gators (17-2, 6-0) beat the Vols for the first time in nearly two years and extended their school record for consecutive home wins to 26.

Stokes and Maymon kept the Vols in the game early, but they faded down the stretch. Maymon finished with eight points and seven boards.

“This is just my observation, but I thought those guys, Stokes and Maymon, were so incredible on the backboard with their effort,” Gators coach Billy Donovan said. “To offensive rebound and to chase balls like they did, they got worn down, they got tired and rightfully so. Those guys are carrying around a lot of weight and size and strength.” 

The Gators led 26-19 at halftime and pulled away with a 21-5 run after the break. Wilbekin’s floater in the lane got things started, and Frazier’s consecutive 3-pointers really opened it up.

After Will Yeguete’s dunk and Dorian Finney-Smith’s consecutive layups in transition, the Gators pulled ahead by 17 and looked really in rhythm.

It was just what Florida had hoped for after the previous meetings.

“It’s a gift to be desperate,” Donovan said. “I thought we played closer to our identity and out potential than we have before. I think the last two games we didn’t do that. It’s encouraging to me to see our guys come out with that kind of focus.” 

Florida coasted from there, winning for the 16th time in its last 17 games. The only loss in that stretch was a buzzer-beating defeat at then-No. 12 Connecticut in early December.

Florida shot 48 percent from the field, including hitting 5 of 16 attempts from behind the arc. The Gators scored 38 points in the paint, made 10 of 13 free throws and finished with a season-low six turnovers.

Stokes posed problems early, but Donovan’s full-court press gave McRae, Barton and Richardson fits. The Vols had just 13 turnovers, but they ended up taking countless ill-advised shots and had little, if anything, come easy.

“They played really good defense, doubling in the post,” Maymon said. “They just played a really good, all-around game.” 

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