KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Scottie Wilbekin had 21 points and six assists, and No. 3 Florida stepped up its defense in the second half to outlast Tennessee 67-58 Tuesday night for its 16th consecutive victory.
Michael Frazier II added 11 points to help the Gators (22-2, 11-0 SEC) beat Tennessee in Knoxville for just the second time in their last nine attempts. Frazier and Wilbekin both made key 3-pointers down the stretch to put the game out of reach.
Jarnell Stokes had 20 points and 11 rebounds for Tennessee (15-9, 6-5), which was seeking a victory over a highly ranked opponent to boost its NCAA tournament hopes. Jordan McRae had 17 points and Josh Richardson 13.
After shooting 62.5 percent (15 of 24) in the first half, the Volunteers made only 29.2 percent (7 of 24) of their shots after halftime.
When the teams last met, Florida routed Tennessee 67-41 in Gainesville on Jan. 25 to hand the Volunteers their most lopsided loss in Cuonzo Martin’s three-year coaching tenure. Tennessee shot 26.8 percent (15 of 56) overall and 1 of 19 from 3-point range in that game.
But the Vols still had reason to feel confident.
Tennessee entered the night having won seven of its last eight meetings with Florida at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols’ ugly performance in Gainesville last month ended a string of three straight Tennessee victories over Florida. And the Vols had a history of beating favored Florida teams.
Twelve previous times in this series, an unranked Tennessee team had faced a Florida team ranked 19th or higher. Tennessee entered the night with a 7-5 record in those games.
Tennessee fired up the crowd by having the players walk through a walkway in the Thompson-Boling Arena stands to get to the floor, allowing fans to greet them on their way. The student section behind one basket waved orange glow sticks as Tennessee’s starting lineup was introduced.
That atmosphere might have caused the Vols to get a little too amped up early on.
After a basket by Stokes gave the Vols an early 2-0 lead, Florida went on a 10-0 run by scoring seven points off five Tennessee turnovers in the first 4½ minutes.
But once the Vols settled down and started taking care of the ball, they got back into the game by capitalizing on strong shooting. The team that made just 15 baskets all game in the loss at Gainesville last month matched that total by halftime Tuesday. Tennessee made 14 of its first 21 shots to turn that early 10-2 deficit into a 32-26 advantage.
Florida regained the lead by going on a 16-4 run that started late in the first half and carried over to the opening minutes of the second half. Tennessee rallied to tie it, then fell behind by seven as its offense bogged down.
The Vols got back into the game by stepping up the intensity on defense even as their own shots weren’t falling. Tennessee cut the lead to 55-54 on Stokes’ three-point play with 4:32 left and had the ball with a chance to take the lead after McRae blocked Wilbekin’s shot.
But Tennessee couldn’t get a shot off. Frazier stole the ball from Jeronne Maymon — the senior forward’s eighth turnover of the night — and hit a 3-pointer on the other end to extend Florida’s lead to 58-54 with 3:32 remaining.
Wilbekin, who had missed his first five attempts from behind the arc, also drained a 3 just more than a minute later to pretty much seal the victory.