Smith helps No. 4 Vols overcome big
deficit to beat Gators
Vols Escape Gainesville With Win
|Florida coach Billy Donovan doesn't agree with a call during the first half of Florida's basketball game against Tennessee on Wednesday, March 5, 2008, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)|
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- After JaJuan Smith hit a second straight 3-pointer, he backpedaled to the other end of the court yelling, "They're done. They're done."
He was right about the game -- and maybe Florida's season.
Smith scored 23 points, Chris Lofton
added 21 and No. 4 Tennessee overcame a 16-point deficit to beat the Gators 89-86 on Wednesday night.
The Volunteers (27-3, 13-2) set a school record for victories, clinched their first Southeastern Conference regular-season title since 1967 and may have knocked the two-time defending national champions out of the NCAA Tournament picture.
"I'm starting to think Coach (Bruce) Pearl is a genius," Smith said. "I just figured it out. He told us before the game that Florida was going to come out hot. ... He told us, 'Handle it. They're not going to keep shooting the ball that well.'"
The Gators (21-9, 8-7) made their first nine shots, were ahead 35-19 midway through the first half and looked like they might get their biggest win of the season.
But Tennessee turned to Smith and Lofton down the stretch, and their stars delivered. The duo combined to shoot 15-of-26 from the field, including 8-of-15 from 3-point range.
"Those two guys, they do it every single game," Gators coach Billy Donovan said. "It's a special and unique quality that they have to really be able to make extremely difficult shots and I thought that was the difference in the game in the second half."
It may have been the difference in Florida's postseason, too. The Gators have lost six of their last nine and might need to win the SEC tournament to earn a 10th consecutive NCAA bid.
They also might want to avoid facing Tennessee in the conference tournament.
The Volunteers overcame a 13-point deficit to beat the Gators 104-82 in Knoxville last month and dug themselves out of an even bigger hole Wednesday.
Florida had two chances to send it to overtime, though.Dan Werner
committed an offensive foul on the first try. Then, Jai Lucas
tipped the inbound pass off Smith's leg, which gave the Gators the ball back with 6.9 seconds to play.Nick Calathes
got the ball and took a deep 3-pointer that ricocheted off the back of the rim.
"That's a tall order to ask that guy to make that kind of shot," Donovan said.
Calathes led Florida with 24 points and nine assists, while Marreese Speights
added 21 points and seven rebounds.
Tennessee, which has won four of the last five against Florida, started slicing into the lead after halftime.Tyler Smith
converted a three-point play, then made two spinning shots in the lane that helped the Volunteers trim it to 55-49. He finished with 13 points and eight boards.
Then Lofton and JaJuan Smith got hot from 3-point range.
Lofton's first 3, a wide-open shot from the elbow, made it 63-58. His second, an off-balance shot with a defender in his face, got it to 69-68 and started a 14-0 run that proved to be the difference in the game.
Smith's two 3s were equally impressive. After he gave the Volunteers their first lead of the game, 70-69, with a layup, he hit 3s on consecutive possessions. Both came a step or two behind the line and with a defender right there.
"Those guys made great shots," said Walter Hodge
, who had 11 points in Florida's early run but was quiet in the second half.
Tennessee extended the lead to 79-69 on Wayne Chism
's reverse layup, but the Gators got right back in it.
Werner and Calathes hit 3-pointers, then Werner added a floater in the lane that made it 83-81.
Hodge had a chance to tie the game with two free throws, but missed the second.
The Vols looked like they might blow the lead again when JaJuan Smith missed two free throws with 44.1 seconds remaining. But Tyler Smith got the rebound and banked it in to put them back up 87-85.
Tennessee hung on from there.
"We know it means a lot for us down the road 10 years from now," JaJuan Smith said.