Jan. 31, 2009
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee's guards were tired of hearing people say they couldn't shoot the ball. They kept trying anyway.
It finally paid off as Scotty Hopson scored a career-high 20 points and Tennessee cruised to a 79-63 win over Southeastern Conference East rival Florida on Saturday night. "I really needed this, man," Hopson said. "Me and my teammates all together needed this."
Tennessee (13-7, 4-2) scored the first six points and didn't let up as Florida (18-4, 5-2) remained cold for much of the first half. With 10:22 left before halftime, Emmanuel Negedu hit a layup to give Tennessee a 16-6 lead.
Encouraged by a sellout crowd clad in all white, the Volunteers, whose 30.6 percent shooting average behind the arc is one of the worst in the SEC, hit a flurry of 3-pointers to take a 39-22 halftime lead. Six Vols combined for eight 3s in the first half, shooting 42 percent.
Florida's Nick Calathes, coming off his second career triple-double, picked up two fouls in the first 3 minutes and sat out 11 minutes of the half. In 9 minutes, he scored six points, grabbed one rebound, had one assist and committed three turnovers.
"Calathes picking up two fouls early was a factor because they weren't able to get any rhythm going without him," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.
Tennessee, which averages 45.1 percent shooting, hit 46.9 percent from the field by halftime, while Florida, which averages 49.5 percent, hit only 36 percent.
"Half of their shots almost were from the 3-point line, but when you talk about percentages and how you want to play against them, you want them to try to take jump shots," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "You have to give them credit because they stepped up and made jump shots."
The Vols took a 52-29 lead on Cameron Tatum's 3-pointer with 14:42 left. The Gators launched into a 13-2 run, and Erving Walker's 3 trimmed the margin to 61-50 with 7:09 left. Calathes found his shot in the second half, and finished with 21 points, but Florida wouldn't get any closer than 10 points.
Chandler Parsons helped the Gators with 15 points.
Under Bruce Pearl, Tennessee has controlled the Florida series. The Vols hold a 6-1 edge over the Gators the past four seasons, which includes Florida's two national championship seasons.
Florida had won 12 of its last 14 games before Saturday, while Tennessee had gone 7-7 in its past 14 games.
The Gators entered the game with 18 wins, just as they did facing the Vols a year ago. That first loss to Tennessee last season was part of a 3-6 tailspin to close out the regular season.
"People can say whatever they want. We're a totally different team than last year," Parsons said. "We're 10 times better than we were last year. They can say all they want."
Vols fans participated in a "white out" of Thompson-Boling Arena both for Tennessee's first appearance on ESPN's College Gameday broadcast and to show support for the school's "Outlive" campaign.
Through sales of white Outlive T-shirts, the school raised $60,000 for cancer screenings and prevention programs. The program was inspired by former Tennessee guard Chris Lofton, who was treated for testicular cancer during his senior season last year.
"I promise you the (white out) environment had a lot to do with us getting off to a really good start," Pearl said.