There have been times this season when the Gators appear to be the best team in the country.
None of those instances have been on the road on a Tuesday night.
Facing a desperate Tennessee team in Knoxville, the Gators dropped their third consecutive Tuesday night road game 64-58.
The Gators (22-5, 12-3) and the Vols (17-10, 9-6) entered the game from opposite directions. Tennessee had been the winners of five straight, while Florida hobbled into the game with only six players who had seen regular playing time this season.
Despite shorthanded Florida’s situation, by the first timeout with 14:33 to go, the Gators had raced out to a 10-4 lead.
Although Thompson-Boling Arena fans would have much to cheer about later on, the crowd was relatively silent during the game’s early going, as the Vols struggled to keep up with the Gators in the fast-paced game.
However, with small pool of available players, the Gators would eventually become fatigued, allowing the Vols to quickly creep back in the game. On the heels of Jordan McCrae’s 17 first-half points, the Volunteers managed to grapple the lead from Florida, going into halftime up three.
Patric Young led all Florida scorers going into the break, posting 11 points, but despite Young’s ability to put the ball in the hoop, he struggled all evening to pull in rebounds, finishing the game with only 5.
After halftime, Florida quickly regained the lead, putting Tennessee on its heels with a 4-0 run to start the half. However, after Jordan McCrae tied the game with a jumper, the Vols pulled down a defensive rebound — one of 27 — raced down court, and took the lead on a Trae Golden layup.
They would never trail again.
Florida struggled in seemingly every facet of the game on Tuesday, suffering defensive breakdowns as well as ill-timed turnovers. However, no area was more troubling for the Gators than the rebounding department.
The Volunteers out-rebounded the Gators 40-29 on the night, proving that without Will Yeguete, Florida will experience problems down low.
Making matters worse, junior forward Casey Prather received a blow to his head, forcing him to leave the game late in the second half (no word yet on his condition).
With Florida struggling to make plays on both ends of the floor, the Volunteers cruised to the finish line, mostly on the heels of McCrae who poured in a game-high 27 points. No other Tennessee player finished with double figures.
The Gators had three players who finished with double figures, led by Mike Rosario who scored 16 on a 5-of-14 clip. Young would finish with 15, while Prather would score 10 in only 17 minutes of play.
Prather’s 17 minutes were the only significant minutes of play contributed by the UF bench on Tuesday. Leading up to the game, the question du jour was how much would the UF freshmen play against Tennessee?
The answer apparently, was not much. Both Braxton Ogbueze and DeVon Walker received playing time, but they combined for only 9 minutes of action.
Although the Gators may have received another blow in Prather’s injury, there is a chance both Yeguete and Michael Frazier II could return for the Alabama game on Saturday.
With the Gators’ loss on Tuesday, the Alabama game has become even bigger as UF holds only a one-game lead over the Crimson Tide in the SEC standings.
Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. in the O’Connell Center.
Although they’ve struggled recently on the road, the Gators have yet to lose at home this season.