KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Grant Williams bounced back from one of his worst performances of the season and helped 19th-ranked Tennessee damage Florida’s NCAA Tournament hopes.
Williams scored 23 points and Tennessee beat Florida 62-57 on Wednesday night to hand the Gators their third consecutive loss. Williams’ big night came four nights after he had a season-low five points in a 73-62 loss at Georgia.
“At Georgia, I was kind of being passive and also I was kind of playing slow,” Williams said. “I wasn’t playing with pace like I normally do and I wasn’t being aggressive. Tonight I was just saying I was going to get the ball where I wanted to get it and put the ball in the basket.”
Williams put up big numbers despite missing about eight minutes in the second half due to foul trouble. He shot 8 of 13 from the floor and 7 of 8 from the foul line.
Admiral Schofield added 16 points and eight rebounds for Tennessee (20-7, 10-5 Southeastern Conference). Williams and Schofield also led a Tennessee defense that caused Florida to shoot just 35 percent overall and 25 percent from 3-point range.
“They’re one of the best defensive teams in the country,” Florida coach Mike White said. “You’ve got linebackers like Williams and Schofield that move like guards. They’ve got great speed and quickness in the backcourt. They’ve got great depth. They run different guys at you, and they play extremely hard.”
Florida (17-11, 8-7) trailed nearly the whole way, but threatened in the final minute.
Chris Chiozza made a basket to cut Tennessee’s lead to 60-57 with 24.5 seconds left, and he got fouled by Williams in the process. But Chiozza missed the ensuing free throw and couldn’t get Florida any closer.
The Gators were seeking a quality road win that could boost their NCAA Tournament credentials.
Florida entered the night 65th in the RPI and have a demanding schedule the rest of the way. The Gators host No. 12 Auburn, visits Alabama and hosts Kentucky in their final three regular-season games.
White credited his team’s defensive intensity, which has been an issue at times this season. The Gators’ problem was trying to solve Tennessee’s defense.
“I told our guys I was proud of the effort defensively,” White said. “We’ve got to get to where we see that every night. There’s not that many games left. That will give us a chance. On top of that, we’ve got to knock down some 3’s and free throws and of course, when we’re within 5 feet, we’ve got to finish at a much higher rate.”
Jalen Hudson had 13 points for Florida, and Chiozza and Keith Stone each added 11. Chiozza also had nine assists and six rebounds.
Florida: The Gators continually misfired from 3-point range for most of the night. They missed 15 of their first 17 3-point attempts before making four of their last seven. By the time they finally started to heat up, they already had dug themselves too deep a hole.
Tennessee: The Vols got big efforts from their two top players — Williams and Schofield — and didn’t back down when Florida finally started making its shots down the stretch. Williams and Schofield played well enough to help Tennessee withstand the absence of reserve forward Derrick Walker, who missed the game with an ankle injury. Tennessee preserved its lead by going 13 of 15 from the foul line, including 9 of 11 in the second half.
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Tennessee had moved down one spot to No. 19 after its loss to Georgia. The Vols could move up a spot or two next week if they win Saturday at Mississippi.
The boisterous Thompson-Boling Arena crowd of 16,016 featured a handful of former Tennessee players. Miami Heat guard Josh Richardson, Chris Lofton, Bobby Maze, Jordan McRae and Ron Slay received a hearty ovation when they were introduced during a first-half timeout. Lofton and Slay are former SEC players of the year.
Florida: Hosts No. 12 Auburn on Saturday.
Tennessee: At Mississippi on Saturday.
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