KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee point guard Jordan Bone started the last 26 games for the Vols, but it had been quite a while since coach Rick Barnes trusted him to finish one.
That changed on Wednesday night, with Bone assertive and effective running the point as No. 19-ranked Tennessee (20-7, 10-5 SEC) beat Florida (17-11, 8-7) by a 62-57 count.
Grant Williams starred for the Vols with 23 points, but it was Bone who led Tennessee in the telling plus-minus statistics. The Vols outscored Florida by 12 points with Bone in the game.
Barnes has called out Bone throughout the season for not pushing the ball up court aggressively enough and taking too many perimeter shots instead of getting to the rim.
Barnes challenged the talented sophomore from Nashville — who entered the night with 31 assists and three turnovers in the prior six games — by making him stay after practice.
“We ended up saying at practice yesterday, ‘We’re not going to leave until you show us how aggressive you can be going to the basket,’ “ Barnes said. “I said. ‘I don’t care if we stay three hours.’ He did it, and we said we have to get that from you.
“Even though he had a few shots blocked tonight, going in there he showed he could do it, and we need to put that kind of pressure on teams.”
Bone had six points on 3-of-9 shooting to go with four assists and two turnovers in 32 minutes — the most minutes he has played since the second game of the SEC portion of the schedule against Auburn on Jan. 2.
Williams said when Bone turns up the tempo the Vols are at their best.
“When Bone is playing like that we’re difficult to guard because he’s so fast,” Williams said. “When he gets in transition, you’d rather him be aggressive than try to pace it.”
Forwards Williams and Admiral Schofield took 30 of Tennessee’s 53 shots, but Barnes said that was the plan against the Gators (17-11, 8-7), to go inside early and often.
Barnes also said that freshman Derrick Walker turned an ankle in Tuesday’s practice, thus explaining why he wasn’t the first player off the bench when Williams ran into foul troubles.
Tennessee basketball next up
The Vols can clinch a bye in the SEC Tournament with a win at Ole Miss at 1 p.m. on Saturday in Oxford.
Tennessee basketball in SEC standings
Tennessee basketball boxscore