GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Tennessee’s reign of men’s basketball dominance over Florida came to a screeching halt Tuesday night.
The Gators (20-8, 9-4 SEC) snapped a six-game losing skid against the Vols (20-7, 8-5) with a 75-62 victory. Florida took sole possession of third place in the SEC East Division before the crowd of 11,273 at the O’Connell Center.
It was an even battle until UT senior post Wayne Chism picked up his fourth foul at the 16:01 mark of the second half, relegating him to the bench with the Vols trailing 43-41.
By the time Chism returned at the 7:31 mark, Florida was on a roll, up 56-47. Chism was unable to turn the tide, fouling out with 4:02 left and the Gators up 64-50.
Florida out-scored the Vols in the paint 32-22 with Chism held to seven points and one rebound in the 15 minutes he played.
“If you look at the series historically, the team that’s won the battle in the paint has been the team that has won the game,’’ UT coach Bruce Pearl said. “Wayne hurt his back on a fall . . . and didn’t play effectively, and they had some guys in there that battled and won the boards (38-29). It was just too much for us.’’
The Gators led by as many as 20 points when Erving Walker (19 points) hit three straight 3-pointers and Chandler Parsons (19 points) added another 3-pointer with 3:02 remaining to make it 70-50.
Pearl, 8-2 against Florida, started his eighth different starting lineup of the season. Junior Brian Williams made his first start, while sophomore Scotty Hopson missed his first start of the season.
“Scotty scored 20 points in 31 minutes, and I thought he played well,’’ Pearl said. “He took the adjustment in stride and really stepped up and played with great focus.’’
Hopson’s points came on 8-of-15 shooting, including 4-of-8 beyond the 3-point arc. Cameron Tatum had 13 points in his first extended playing time since returning from an ankle injury on Feb. 6.
With Chism’s foul troubles, Renaldo Woolridge saw his first playing time, albeit only two minutes, since going 1-of-6 shooting and getting three rebounds in 24 minutes against Kentucky three games ago.
The game was tied at 37 at halftime.
Florida jumped out to a 13-6 lead, hitting six of its first eight shots.
That’s when Hopson entered the game and started lighting it up.
Hopson hit back-to-back 3-pointers to trigger an 11-0 run that J.P. Prince capped with a dunk, giving the Vols a 17-13 lead with just under 14 minutes left in the half.
UT extended its lead to eight points when Bobby Maze (11 points) hit a 3-pointer at the 5:18 mark to make it 35-27.
The Gators battled back, closing the half on a 10-2 run thanks in part to four Vols turnovers over the final five minutes.
“We just dug ourselves a hole in the second half and we couldn’t get back into it,’’ Maze said. “When Florida went on that run and the crowd got into it, we forced a couple of shots and turned it over.
“Everything happens for a reason; we’ll just go back home and get ready for Kentucky.’’
The Vols return to action at noon Saturday (TV: WVLT) in Thompson-Boling Arena against the No. 2 Wildcats (26-1, 11-1).
Kentucky plays a home game at 9 p.m. Thursday against South Carolina.
Pearl is 2-3 against Kentucky coach John Calipari — the only current SEC coach he has a losing mark against.