KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Senior point guard Scottie Wilbekin scored 21 points, lifting No. 3 Florida to a 67-58 win over Tennessee on Tuesday.
The Gators (22-2, 11-0 Southeastern Conference) won their 16th straight game, and they prevailed for just the second time in their past nine meetings with the Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena. Wilbekin added six assists and four assists, and guard Michael Frazier scored 11 points for the Gators.
Junior forward Jarnell Stokes led Tennessee (15-9, 6-5) with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Guard Jordan McRae added 17 points, and guard Josh Richardson scored 13 for the Volunteers.
Frazier drained a 3-pointer to increase Florida’s lead to 58-54 with 3:34 left. After a Stokes miss, Wilbekin sank a 3-pointer with 2:23 remaining to put Florida up 61-54. From there, the Gators closed out the game.
Facing the chance to pick up a statement win at home, Tennessee showed some early jitters, turning the ball over on six of its first nine possessions. Wilbekin had three steals during that span, including a steal and breakaway layup that gave the Gators an early 10-2 lead.
The Volunteers regrouped, and McRae hit back-to-back 3-pointers to cut Florida’s lead to 13-8. McRae later sank a jumper to cut Florida’s lead to 22-16, then finished a breakaway dunk in transition to cut the margin to 24-22.
After two free throws from Florida senior forward Casey Prather put the Gators up 26-22, Tennessee went on a 10-0 run. Jarnell Stokes scored the first six points of the run, including a put-back that gave the home team its first lead (28-26) since the opening seconds of the game.
Senior point guard Antonio Barton then scored on a runner in the lane and a jumper to extend Tennessee’s lead to 32-26.
Florida closed the half with a 7-2 run. Wilbekin grabbed a defensive rebound and drove the length of the floor, scoring a runner in the lane at the buzzer to cut Tennessee’s lead to 34-33 at halftime.
The Gators shot 36.4 percent from the field in the first half. Tennessee shot 62.5 percent but committed nine first-half turnovers.
For the game, Tennessee outshot Florida, 45.8 percent to 36.2 percent. The Volunteers finished with 15 turnovers, while the Gators gave the ball away 12 times.
NOTES: Tennessee freshman Darius Thompson made his fifth consecutive start at point guard, and he finished with no points and one assist. Senior Antonio Barton started at point guard in the Volunteers’ 67-41 loss to the Gators on Jan. 25. …. Senior F Casey Prather started for Florida and scored nine points. He is working his way back to 100 percent after suffering a mild ankle sprain Jan. 30 at Mississippi State. … Florida is off to the second-best start in school history, trailing only the 2006-07 national title team, which started 24-2.
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