By: John Dunn
The All Vol Call in Show
With March right around the corner, it’s now or never for Tennessee. A strong finish to the season against a pair of heated rivals and a strong showing in the SEC tournament could propel the Vols into the offseason, no matter which tournament they land in.
After relinquishing a 17-point lead to Auburn last week, Vol fans felt a similar sense of impending doom on Saturday against the Gators. Tennessee jumped out to a 19-point lead before Florida pulled back to within one. However, the Vols had just enough to hold on for a victory against the Gators at home.
Things were back-and-forth throughout much of the first half before Tennessee opened up a 10-0 run to extend their lead to 12-points at 26-14.
Josiah James, Jordan Bowden, John Fulkerson, Yves Pons and Santiago Vescovi were all pivotal in helping the Vols take a double digit lead from beyond the arc. Pons‘ and James’ rebounding and defense also allowed Tennessee to sustain their offensive momentum, as well as halt Florida’s.
The Vols held Florida scoreless for nine minutes in the second half, and outscored Florida 16-3 to take a 32-17 lead into the intermission.
James led all scorers with 10 points at the break, but the Vols’ scoring was extremely balanced. Fulkerson and Pons has six each in the first half, and Vescovi and Bowden added five each.
The Vols continued to outpace Florida at the beginning of the second half. Opening on a 5-2 run, extending their lead to 37-19 before the Gators finally broke the 20-point mark, with 17:00 minutes remaining.
After another five minutes had transpired, the Vols’ lead had increased to 48-29, their largest of the game, with just under 12 minutes remaining.
Some sharp shooting allowed the Gators to chip away at the Vols’ lead and pull to within seven points at 52-45 with just over six minutes remaining in the game. A pair of Florida possessions after a Fulkerson basket saw the Gators cut to within four points at 54-50 with four minutes remaining in the game.
With momentum shifting in Florida’s favor on the heels of a 25-6 run, the Gators drew back to within one point at 55-54 with two minutes left in the game.
With time expiring on the shot clock, Fulkerson heaved a desperation attempt from deep and connected, extending the Tennessee lead to 58-54 before a Gator basket on the interior pulled it back to 58-56 with one minute left in the game.
Continuing to shoulder the load of “team hero”, Fulkerson followed up a Bowden missed layup with a put-back dunk to extend the Tennessee lead to 60-56 with 46.6 second remaining.
A pair of Gator free throws pulled the score back to within two at 60-58 with only 24.7 seconds remaining.
Florida elected to foul on the ensuing play, allowing Vescovi to connect on a pair of free throws, stretching Tennessee’s lead to two possessions at 62-58.
A missed layup by Florida gave the Vols another opportunity at the charity stripe. James connected on one-of-two free throws, allowing them to secure a 63-58 victory in Knoxville.