KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Florida’s smothering defense returned to form just in time for the third-ranked Gators to keep their winning streak going.
After falling behind in the first half because of Tennessee’s strong shooting, the Gators stepped up their defense down the stretch and won 67-58 Tuesday night for their 16th consecutive victory.
Florida beat the Volunteers in Knoxville for the second time in its last nine attempts.
Florida had allowed opponents to shoot a mere 38.4 percent in its first 22 games of the season before Alabama shot 55 percent in a 78-69 loss to the Gators on Saturday. Tennessee shot 62.5 percent in the first half Tuesday, but the Volunteers made 29.2 percent (7 of 24) of their attempts after halftime.
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“We didn’t press a lot in the first half,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “The game I thought, for us, just got kind of stagnant. … We wanted the game going up and down the floor, to really get into a racing game, and I thought we pressed predominantly most of the second half. We didn’t turn them over a lot, but it was just disruptive in terms of flow.”
Scottie Wilbekin had 21 points and six assists and Michael Frazier II added 11 points for Florida (22-2 overall, 11-0 Southeastern Conference). Wilbekin and Frazier both made key three-pointers down the stretch.
Jarnell Stokes had 20 points and 11 rebounds for Tennessee (15-9, 6-5), which was seeking a victory over a highly ranked opponent to boost its NCAA tournament hopes. Jordan McRae had 17 points and Josh Richardson added 13.
When the teams last met, Florida routed Tennessee 67-41 in Gainesville on Jan. 25 to hand the Volunteers their most lopsided loss in Cuonzo Martin’s three-season coaching tenure.
“We knew we were a better team than that first game anyway, (even) while it was going on,” Richardson said. “We came out and played as well as we could today, and they just outplayed us.”
No. 4 Wichita St. wins
WICHITA, Kan. – Wichita State funneled into the locker room for some sage advice from coach Gregg Marshall, and wound up getting a little wisdom from Emmy Award winner Kirstie Alley instead.
“She said to the guys, ‘Don’t read the reviews, the positive ones and the negative ones. Just play the game,’ ” Marshall said after a 78-67 victory over Southern Illinois that improved the No. 4 Shockers’ record to 26-0. “So you’re getting it from a Hollywood star.”
The reviews of this one aren’t going to be glowing.
The Shockers shot poorly from the perimeter, struggled to defend Salukis standout Anthony Beane and found themselves in a four-point hole early in the second half.
But behind 19 points from Ron Baker and 18 from Cleanthony Early, the Shockers (13-0 Missouri Valley) managed to put Southern Illinois away, becoming the first team since Memphis in 2008 to start 26-0.
Five games are what stand in the way of Wichita State becoming the first team since Saint Joseph’s in 2003-04 to have a perfect regular season, though it should be noted No. 1 Syracuse is 23-0 this season.
“It’s cool, you know?” Early said. “But we take it game by game, day by day. I don’t think we’re looking at an undefeated season because you have to beat the team that’s in front of you.”
Beane scored 25 points for the Salukis (10-16, 6-7), getting to the rim at will until late in the game.