By Dory LeBlanc
Last year in Knoxville, the then-eighth ranked Gators were upset by rival Tennessee 58-64; Tuesday night, they were looking to avoid the same fate at the Thompson-Boling arena. Despite playing sloppy ball at times, the Gators did just that.
Florida trailed Tennessee by one at the half, but a strong second half performance by Scottie Wilbekin gave the No. 3 team in the country its 16th consectutive win, defeating the Vols 67-58.
The Gators jumped to a quick 10-2 lead, but squandered it late in the first to fall behind 34-33 to the Volunteers at the break. Florida scored eight of ts first 10 points in the paint, then completely abandoned the low-post game, settling for ill-advised shots of desperation from behind the arc to keep pace with UT's Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson's three's.
Wilbekin played one of his best defensive perfomances this season and in the second half, his offensive production led the Gators to keep the lead and hold it for the victory.
The senior posted a 21-point performance with six assists and four steals, while fellow classmate Casey Prather led Florida with seven rebounds, and Plant High's Michael Frazier II made three-of-six attempts from behind the arc.
Jarnell Stokes was the star of the Vols with 20 points, 11 rebounds and two assists.
At the final buzzer, the Gators shot an abysmal 36.2% (21-58 FG) from the field, but the 77.3% free throw shooting (17-22) bailed Florida and keeps them at a perfect 11-0 in SEC action (22-2 overall).
Up Next: It doesn't get easier for the Gators, who will travel to take on the Kentucky Wildcats at the Rupp Arena on Saturday, February 15th at 8:25 on 620 WDAE and 95.3 FM.