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Seeing is believing

Vols stun No. 2 Florida in front of 24,011 fans

Remember that little ol' engine that thought it could?

Saturday night, it turned into a Big Orange locomotive.

Tennessee trailed most of the game only to battle back again and again, finally toppling previously unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Florida 80-76 on Saturday night.

Many in the sellout crowd of 24,011 stormed the floor as time ran out, orange and white streamers raining down from the Thompson-Boling Arena rafters.

The Vols (12-3, 3-1 SEC) didn't beat the No. 1 team in the country, but they might as well have. The Gators (17-1, 3-1) were in position to take over the nation's top spot with a win after No. 1 Duke lost to Georgetown earlier in the day.

"I can't even begin to emphasize what a difference 24,000 made on our play and our poise, and I think it affected Florida,'' first-year UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "Tonight is a night our students will remember for a long, long time.

"That was a shot that's going to be heard around the country.''

The Vols' winning shot came with 20.1 seconds left. Chris Lofton made a steal and fired a pass to Dane Bradshaw from one free throw line to the other, and an uncontested Bradshaw converted the lay up.

Lofton missed a 3-pointer on UT's prior trip down the floor but hustled back down on defense to break up the Gators' fast break by stealing Corey Brewer's pass.

"That was a 2-on-1 fast break; You gotta go,'' Florida coach Billy Donovan said. "That play gave them the lead, but it was a broken play for them to be able to score.''

The 6-foot-4 Bradshaw, who did yeoman's work on 6-11 Joakim Noah while grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out four assists, said he was relieved to see the ball drop through the basket.

"That was the longest two-foot shot I've taken in my life,'' Bradshaw said. "I'd said in the huddle before the game, let's make these fans rush the court.''

Lofton led the Vols with 29 points, his final two coming from the free throw line with six seconds remaining to ice the game.

"Lofton did more than getting back on track — Lofton was 'The Man,' '' said Pearl, who saw Lofton score two points at LSU a week before and struggle through a 5-of-13 shooting night in a loss at Memphis.

"Chris got himself ready to play,'' Pearl said. "He had that look in him, and Florida saw that look. Everybody saw that look.''

They saw it early and often. Lofton scored half of UT's points in the first half, helping the Vols stay within 42-36 at the break.

Florida appeared on the verge of a knockout in the second half, leading by as many as eight when former Maryville High School star Lee Humphrey scored his only points of the game on a 3-pointer to put the Gators up 46-38 with 18:06 left.

But UT kept chipping away and finally took a 61-60 lead with 8:45 left on a JaJuan Smith drive.

It was the Vols' first lead since the 5:48 mark of the first half, when an Andre Patterson's put-back basket gave UT a 31-30 lead.

"My mom came out here tonight, and I wanted to play good for her,'' said Patterson, who made Teresa Patterson's trip from Los Angeles worthwhile with a 12-point, 10-rebound performance. "We've been under the radar all year, but that's good. I'd rather fight for respect than have someone just give it to us.''

That's exactly what the Vols did over the final nine minutes — the lead changed hands four times and was tied on three occasions with the scoreboard resting at 76-76 with 45 seconds remaining.

UT called a timeout with 39.1 seconds left and 29 seconds showing on the shot clock, but Lofton came out of the huddle and missed a 3-pointer.

The Gators were off to the races with the rebound.

Lofton, who had three steals on the night, made his third count most.

"I was thinking I had to get back on defense because I didn't want them to take the lead,'' Lofton said. "I just read (Brewer's) eyes on that play.''

Lofton made the steal and the pass, and Bradshaw did the rest, laying it in for a 78-76 lead.

In an ironic twist, Humphrey, who many locals perceived was snubbed by UT in favor of Bradshaw during the recruiting process, missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the other end of the court.

Lofton came up with the rebound and was intentionally fouled with six seconds left.

Lofton swished both, the second drawing the loudest roar of the night from the largest crowd to attend a UT men's basketball game in 15 years.

© 2006 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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