KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee remained in sole possession of second place in the SEC standings, staving off Florida by a 62-57 count late Wednesday night.
The No. 19-ranked Vols (20-7 overall, 10-5 SEC) led throughout the game, their defense clamping down on Florida’s perimeter shooters. The Gators were just 6 of 24 from 3-point range, much to the delight of the 16,016 fans in attendance at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Tennessee didn’t trail in the second half and went up by as many as 10 points on Florida (17-11, 8-7) with 5 minutes, 4 seconds left on a Jordan Bowden jumper.
Grant Williams scored 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting to lead Tennessee, which has won 20 games for the first time since 2013-14, when a Cuonzo Martin-coached team reached the Sweet 16.
Admiral Schofield added 16 points for the Vols (7-of-17 shooting), even as Tennessee’s guards continued to struggle.
Jordan Bone (3 of 9), Lamonte Turner (2 of 4), James Daniel lll (1 of 3) and Jordan Bowden (2 of 5) combined for 23 points, 9 assists and 7 turnovers.
Tennessee held a 27-18 lead at the half on the strength of its defense.
The Vols shot just 37.9 percent from the floor in the opening half with 7 assists and 10 turnovers.
Tennessee’s defense, however, was pivotal. Florida shot 26.9 percent and was outrebounded 23-17.
Auburn beat Alabama 90-71 to remain two games ahead of the Vols in the SEC standings. The Tide, like Florida, dropped to 8-7 in the conference standings, now 2 games behind Tennessee.
Grant Williams’ impact
The Vols appeared to be in trouble when Williams picked up his third foul and left the game less than a minute into the second half with Tennessee up 27-18.
The Vols’ lead was down to 35-34 when Williams checked back in at the 11:36 mark. Williams scored right away and Tennessee went on a 7-2 run to go ahead 44-36 when coach Rick Barnes removed Williams.
Williams checked back in with the lead down to 44-41, and again he scored immediately, helping the Vols pull away for the win.
Tennessee missed its first 6 attempts from beyond the 3-point arc before Daniel lll connected at the 4:09 mark. The Vols closed the first half on an 11-1 run.
The second-half perimeter shooting was more efficient. Tennessee made 2 of 3 shots from beyond the 3-point arc.
Tennessee raced out to a 6-0 lead to open he game, and there was so much energy pulsating through Thompson-Boling Arena that Florida called a timeout at the 18:04 mark.