GAINESVILLE, Fla. - There was a point in Saturday's game when Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said he felt the Vols "had the magic back" at Florida.
It disappeared during the final 25.5 seconds.
Gators guard Erving Walker drove to the rim to score the winning basket with 14.7 seconds left, lifting Florida to a 61-60 men's basketball victory at the O'Connell Center on Saturday evening.
UT senior guard Melvin Goins missed a 3-pointer as time expired after the Vols failed to execute the play Pearl had called.
"This is one of the more disappointing losses in my career,'' said Pearl, who has lost two games since returning last Tuesday night at Kentucky after serving an eight-game SEC suspension. "We had a game plan that we felt could be effective.''
The Vols (15-10, 5-5 SEC) appeared to be in good position to beat the Gators (20-5, 9-2) much of the game.
The upset was within their grasp when junior Cameron Tatum stepped to the foul line for a one-and-one free-throw opportunity with 25.5 seconds left and UT holding a 60-59 lead.
Tatum missed, capping the Vols' dreadful 4-of-10 shooting performance at the foul line, and Walker attacked the rim at the other end for the game-winning basket.
"It's me, it's all my fault. I'm supposed to be a veteran on this team and I'm supposed to be a leader,'' a dejected Tatum said. "I was in position to make some big free throws, and I didn't.''
Pearl, however, was more disappointed with Tennessee's inability to execute on the final play with Florida's rowdy crowd of 12,630 turning up the decibel level in the background.
"If we executed what we called,'' Pearl said, "I have every confidence that we would have scored or got fouled.''
The final play was supposed to end with Tatum or Hopson driving to the basket, depending on which side of the court Goins brought the ball up court.
But Tobias Harris inbounded to Tatum instead of Goins after Walker's basket.
Tatum was supposed to run the floor, but when he saw Goins being guarded on the inbounds, he said he chose to stay back as a safety valve.
"The ball is supposed to go to the point guard,'' Tatum said. "But I thought once I got it, Mel could circle back.''
Pearl said he could see the play going wrong from the outset, but he elected to allow play to continue, not wanting to give Florida an opportunity to challenge an inbounds play and set up its defense in the half court.
Goins searched on the wings fruitlessly as time wound down, and with approximately three seconds remaining, he launched the off-target 3-point attempt.
Time expired before anyone could gather the rebound, and Florida escaped another close call, running its record to 6-1 in SEC games decided by six points or less.
The Vols, meanwhile, saw an opportunity to tie or win a game on the last possession slip away for the sixth time this season.
It was hard to see this one coming; the Vols raced out to a 35-29 lead at the half and out-executed the Gators throughout, grabbing a season-high 14 steals.
"We were certainly fortunate to win,'' said Florida coach Billy Donovan, who has won three straight against Tennessee. "I thought in Knoxville (an 81-75 overtime win) we were the aggressor for 45 minutes, and I thought tonight that Tennessee was the aggressor.''
Hopson opened the second half with a basket to make it 37-29 as the Vols matched their largest lead of the game.
Florida made an 8-0 run midway through the second half and took a 49-47 lead when Walker (16 points) hit a free throw with 7:40 remaining.
Goins answered with a 3-pointer that gave the Vols a 50-49 lead at the 7:04 mark, the first of four lead changes in the closing minutes.
"It's heartbreaking we are so close,'' Hopson said. "Cam is really down on himself, but it shouldn't have come down to that.
"The big thing now is we have to stick together.''
The Vols return to action at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Thompson-Boling Arena against South Carolina (13-10, 4-6).