The horn sounded, although you could barely hear it over the roar of 19,567 throats.
The photographers rushed toward the celebration at the Tennessee bench, then the bedlam on the court paused for a moment for the handshake line-up ritual.
Finally, McRae, with plenty of spring in his step after scoring 27 points, led a group of screaming-banshee Tennessee Vols in a sprint across the court to salute the screaming-banshee student section.
Florida coach Billy Donovan didn’t have to look. He knows the drill by now.
Tennessee did Tuesday night what it has a particular knack for doing — beating Florida in high-stakes basketball showdowns.
Tennessee 64, Florida 58.
It’s no longer premature to speculate whether the Vols can muster a late charge into the NCAA tournament conversation. They might fall short, but after Tuesday night, it’s OK to talk about it.
Eighth-ranked Florida — and its glittering No. 4 RPI — was the ultimate bounty remaining in Tennessee’s late-season push.
The Vols have won six straight games to arrive at 17-10 overall and 9-6 in SEC play. If nothing else, Tennessee is guaranteed no worse than a .500 record in the expanded 18-game SEC season.
But there could be so much more.
“We have to celebrate this win tonight and do everything in our power to try beat a talented Georgia team,’’ said UT coach Cuonzo Martin.
Georgia. That’s Saturday night in Athens, one of three remaining games before the SEC tournament.
Clearly, the Vols still have serious work to do, maybe too much. But after the impressive work turned in the past three weeks, don’t count them out.
That work contains three road wins, including the four-overtime thriller at Texas A&M last Saturday. Throw in a 30-point rout of Kentucky. Bonus points for the historic margin.
But handing a very good Florida team only its fifth loss, that’s the crown jewel on UT’s resume.
“Is this one of (the best) 68 teams?’’ Martin asked of his Vols, “Without a doubt.
“For us, I say we have to keep it out of someone else’s hands. Let’s control the situation.’’
The Vols’ situation is that they are playing their best basketball of the season. Still, they were 9-point underdogs against a Florida team that has dominated most of the season.
The Gators have won eight games by 30-plus points and 20 by at least 17 points.
They’ve held 19 opponents under 60 points, 11 of them under 50.
Then there’s Donovan, the dean of SEC coaches in his 17th year at Florida. He’s won two NCAA titles and finished runner-up in a third Final Four trip.
His past two Gator teams reached the Elite Eight round and the current model has been in the top 10 most of the season.
But Donovan knows better than anyone what ambushes can lie in wait in the big house beside the Tennessee River. He’s been here 17 times and walked off the court on the short end of the score 12 times.
For the record, he’s also 0-3 against Martin, who directed another UT upset late last year in Gainesville.
Granted, the Gators were shorthanded Tuesday, playing without injured Will Yeguete and Michael Frazier.
Florida vs Tennessee, Feb. 26, 2013
They also played without supersub Casey Prather the final 2:48 after he cracked open a bloody gash on his head in a rebound scrum. By that point, neither side was taking prisoners.
And by that point, Tennessee had seized control anyway.
Despite managing only one basket in the final 7:40 — a monumental rebound score by Jarnell Stokes with 40 seconds left, the Vols were tough enough to find a way.
Who knows, maybe they’re tough enough to find a way to basketball’s Promised Land yet.
Mike Strange may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.