Jan. 31, 2010
BY DREW EDWARDS
KNOXVILLE -- Scotty Hopson had marching orders from the head coach: Go win the game.
Hopson didn't know he had hit the game-winning shot until he heard the crowd -- 21,208 strong, despite snow and ice in Knoxville -- react. He didn't know the Vols had won until he corralled a defensive rebound with about 4 seconds to go.
And therein lies the story of Tennessee's 61-60 victory over Florida on Sunday in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Hopson's shot will take its place in the catalogue of big moments against the Gators, and rightfully so. But Sunday's win owes just as much to a tremendous second-half effort on the boards as Hopson's heroics.
"The game was won and lost on the boards," UT coach Bruce Pearl said.
For most of the first half, it wasn't even a fair fight.
The Vols, who improve to 16-4 overall and 4-2 in SEC play heading to LSU on Thursday, were outworked on the glass by a 20-14 margin that seemed much more lopsided than that.
Gators forward Chandler Parsons had seven boards by the break, and Alex Tyus had four. No Tennessee player had more than three.
According to Wayne Chism, the Vols weren't just outrebounded in the first half. They were outnumbered, too.
"You could see early in the first half it was just me and probably Renaldo (Woolridge) trying to get the rebounds," said Chism, who finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds despite being hampered by a sore knee. "They had sent like five. We was fighting five-on-two. In the second half, it was five-on-five down there trying to rebound and you knew it was going to be a battle."
Florida (15-6, 4-3 SEC) led by six points at halftime. The Vols trailed for more than 25 consecutive minutes until taking a lead with 12:17 to go.
When the dust settled, Tennessee outrebounded Florida 41-32 for the game and 21-12 in the second half. J.P. Prince had five second-half boards and the bulk of his 12 points came on second-chance baskets.
But even with all that, Tennessee never led by more than five points after halftime, and the Gators came back to take a one-point lead on a 3 by Parsons in the final minute.
With 24.6 seconds left on the clock, Pearl turned to Hopson during a timeout and delivered a clear mandate.
"I said, `Win this for us,'" Pearl said.
Hopson's response, according to Chism, was a simple "Yes sir," but the shot itself wasn't simple at all.
With Florida taking away an entry pass to Chism in the low post, Pearl thought Hopson would get a cleaner look outside. But as Hopson took the ball from Woolridge, he had the 6-foot-9 Parsons in his face.
"When I got the ball, I took a dribble, pulled back and had a look at the rim," said Hopson, who finished with 10 points on 5-of-14 shooting. "I shot it, and that's the last look I had. I actually didn't see it go in, because his hand was in my face. I just heard the reaction of the crowd, so I knew it went in."
Hopson got back, though, played defense, grabbed Tyus' miss off the glass and then dribbled the final 4 seconds or so off the clock.
"Just finishing out the game and getting the big rebound," Hopson said. "I wanted to make sure I secured the rebound and secure the win."
On Sunday, the two went hand-in-hand.