Florida center Patric Young (4) works against Tennessee forward Kenny Hall (20) in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)
Wednesday, February 27, 2013 12:17 am
McRae, Tennessee knock off No. 8 Florida 64-58
By STEVE MEGARGEEAP Sports Writer
McRae and the Volunteers are making enough of a statement on the floor.
McRae scored 27 points Tuesday night as Tennessee boosted its postseason hopes by beating No. 8 Florida 64-58, the Vols' sixth consecutive victory. McRae had a career-high 34 points against LSU and 23 points against Texas A&M in the two games leading up to this one.
"I keep saying the same answer," McRae said. "We won this one. We'll try to win the next one and try to win the next one. We're not looking at the SEC (standings). We're not trying to find out what seed we're going to be. We're just trying to do everything we can, that we can control now. We can't control the committee or our seed in the SEC."
Jarnell Stokes had eight points and 14 rebounds as Tennessee (17-10, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) outrebounded Florida 41-31 and won the lone regular-season meeting between these rivals. This marks the first time since 1964 that Florida and Tennessee aren't facing each other twice in the regular season.
Mike Rosario scored 16 points, Patric Young added 15 and Casey Prather had 10 for Florida (22-5, 12-3). The Gators were playing without injured forward Will Yeguette (knee) and guard Michael Frazier II (concussion).
"I feel like we expected to win this game," Stokes said. "After the game, I didn't even get that sort of `upset' feeling. ... I felt coming into these games we expect to win. I'm celebrating because we won. I'm happy we won, but those are our expectations."
The importance of the game brought one of the most boisterous crowds of the season to Thompson-Boling Arena, and McRae energized the 19,567 fans with an early steal and dunk to open the scoring. Florida calmly responded with nine straight points and continued to lead for most of the first half.
But the Vols hung around and moved back in front just before halftime largely because of McRae, who was 7 of 12 from the field in the first half, including 3 of 7 from 3-point range.
"The only thing I thought we could have done better is that I thought we gave up one or two threes to him out of the press, which I thought hurt us a little bit," Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "Then, I think there were one or two plays where there were screens and we were late getting there. He made some tough shots, but he's a good player. Overall, I think we guarded them very, very well. The difference in the game was the rebounding - the offensive rebounding - and then our inability to make a shot."
Tennessee needed a big performance from McRae because Trae Golden and Stokes weren't able to contribute as they had for most of this winning streak.
Golden, the reigning SEC player of the week, had eight points and two assists. Stokes, who entered the game with eight double-doubles in his last nine games, played just 24 minutes while battling foul trouble.
Florida scored the first five points of the second half to regain the lead at 37-35. When Stokes picked up his third foul with 17:06 left, the Gators seemed poised to take control.
It didn't happen.
McRae blocked a shot on one end of the court and got a dunk on the other end to tie the game with 16:34 left. Golden delivered a driving basket 40 seconds later to put the Vols back in front. The Vols stayed ahead the rest of the way.
Florida's last hope faded when Tennessee's Josh Richardson drew a charge to nullify a basket by Rosario that would have cut the Vols' lead to 61-58 with 28.3 seconds remaining.
"It just proves that we're a good team and that we can beat a quality opponent, like Florida," McRae said. "Florida is probably, obviously one of the best teams in the country, ranked top-10, so it's a big win for us, a statement win."
Tennessee was coming off the longest game in school history, a 93-85 victory at Texas A&M on Saturday that lasted four overtimes. But the Vols showed no signs of fatigue and actually wore down the shorthanded Gators.
Yeguette hasn't played for Florida since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Feb. 8. The Gators also were missing guard Michael Frazier II, who sustained a concussion Saturday in a 71-54 victory over Arkansas. Florida's injury woes continued late in the game when forward Casey Prather went to the locker room after taking a blow to the head during a collision under the basket.
After making three of their first four 3-point attempts, the Gators went 1 of 13 the rest of the night.
"We need to celebrate this win tonight and then do everything in our power (Saturday) to beat a talented Georgia team," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "That is just the way it is. I cannot go any farther than that because you just do not know. When you look at this team, and you say is this one of the 68 teams? Without a doubt. But you have to do your job. For us, I say we have to keep it out of someone else's hands. Let's control the situation."