Mike Strange: Vols claim the biggest prize left — Florida

Mike Strange
Tennessee guard Jordan McRae (52) goes up for a basket as Florida forward Erik Murphy (33) defends at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee guard Jordan McRae (52) goes up for a basket as Florida forward Erik Murphy (33) defends at Thompson-Boling Arena Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

How will Tennessee men's basketball finish out the regular season?

See the results »

View previous polls »

The horn sounded, although you could barely hear it over the roar of 19,567 throats.

Jordan McRae did a hop, skip and jump and flung the basketball high into the Thompson-Boling Arena air.

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.

Mission accomplished.

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.

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 strangem@knoxnews.com. Follow him on Twitter at Strangemike44.

Get Copyright Permissions © 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!

© 2013 govolsxtra.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Topics

Related Stories

Comments » 22

BigVolFaninSC writes:

They are laying the foundation for next year!...What an improvement!...I thought the fork was in them a few weeks ago! GBO!

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

unfortunately almost no chance at all to get to the NCAA. All those close losses bite.

I'd love to see the NCAA go to a full playoff: seed 48, then have everyone else play for the last 16 spots (takes maybe 3-4 games).

Thus, a team like UT who is putting it together at season's end gets a chance.

JimmyJoe writes:

in response to emailnodata:

unfortunately almost no chance at all to get to the NCAA. All those close losses bite.

I'd love to see the NCAA go to a full playoff: seed 48, then have everyone else play for the last 16 spots (takes maybe 3-4 games).

Thus, a team like UT who is putting it together at season's end gets a chance.

Hey man... Your wrong... They have a very good chance of getting in... Now they can't tank... But all of these last four games are winnable... If the get two more wins and pick up a tourney win in he SEC I think they are in. They would be 20-11 overall...11-7 in conference with a couple of big wins and really no real bad losses... Plus... They are getting a ton of really good pub right now.

DC82_Vol writes:

Way to go guys. Normally, I would not have stayed up until 11pm watching the game on a work-night but I stayed and supported the VOLS all the way from Florida.

This day is going to be a great day. Florida fans love to rub it in your face when they win but are pretty quiet when they lose. Let the excuses begin.

mykidsmom4 writes:

Go Vols!

tennisvol writes:

Great win for the Vols!

peerlessvolfan writes:

Glad to have gotten a snow day today but wouldn't have missed this game for the world! IT'S GREAT TO BE A TENNESSEE VOL!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to emailnodata:

unfortunately almost no chance at all to get to the NCAA. All those close losses bite.

I'd love to see the NCAA go to a full playoff: seed 48, then have everyone else play for the last 16 spots (takes maybe 3-4 games).

Thus, a team like UT who is putting it together at season's end gets a chance.

I'm sure we would like to have the UVA and G'town games back; wins in those two, and the Vols are a shoo-in for the NCAA. However, those games are ancient history. The NCAA has historically given extra consideration to teams that are hot late, which the Vols certainly have been. Of course, if they go into the tank and lose a couple of these last ones and do their traditional disappearing act in the SEC tourney, all bets are off. Somehow, I don't think this team will flop like that. They just seem to have that indefinable "something" that distinguishes teams from the pack. Everybody is hustling and contributing. With Stokes, McRae, and Golden, they have the kind of star power the NCAA likes to reward. With their gritty total team play, they are a dangerous adversary for anybody. The dream is still VERY much alive, my friend!

mocsandvolsfan writes:

Let's beat Ga. They'll be very tough at home. Plus Georgia fans for some reason hate UT. I think it's all those times Fulmer and staff upset them. Really they did us a few too. But I attend church in Dalton and those particular Christians hate UT. A few living on the border are UT fans + the pastor is a UT Grad. It's fun at that church. Sometimes I wear my orange hat playing guitar in the church band.hehe The pastor(also my brothter) allows it. His 7 year old son(nephew) one time wore a UGa coat with a UT shirt underneath. He's confused.

murrayvol writes:

in response to BigVolFaninSC:

They are laying the foundation for next year!...What an improvement!...I thought the fork was in them a few weeks ago! GBO!

I'll worry about next year in October. Meanwhile.....GBO!

murrayvol writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I'm sure we would like to have the UVA and G'town games back; wins in those two, and the Vols are a shoo-in for the NCAA. However, those games are ancient history. The NCAA has historically given extra consideration to teams that are hot late, which the Vols certainly have been. Of course, if they go into the tank and lose a couple of these last ones and do their traditional disappearing act in the SEC tourney, all bets are off. Somehow, I don't think this team will flop like that. They just seem to have that indefinable "something" that distinguishes teams from the pack. Everybody is hustling and contributing. With Stokes, McRae, and Golden, they have the kind of star power the NCAA likes to reward. With their gritty total team play, they are a dangerous adversary for anybody. The dream is still VERY much alive, my friend!

Agreed but we were hot late last year and got snubbed. If we were Kentucky, or Kansas, or Duke, or Carolina we'd be in. But we're not.

At least we don't have a home loss to APSU on this year's resume.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

You'll notice the ref did NOT want to be on ESPN for not making the charge/block call.

As it was, the UT player made it tough for him by leaning back too early.

emailnodata (Inactive) writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I'm sure we would like to have the UVA and G'town games back; wins in those two, and the Vols are a shoo-in for the NCAA. However, those games are ancient history. The NCAA has historically given extra consideration to teams that are hot late, which the Vols certainly have been. Of course, if they go into the tank and lose a couple of these last ones and do their traditional disappearing act in the SEC tourney, all bets are off. Somehow, I don't think this team will flop like that. They just seem to have that indefinable "something" that distinguishes teams from the pack. Everybody is hustling and contributing. With Stokes, McRae, and Golden, they have the kind of star power the NCAA likes to reward. With their gritty total team play, they are a dangerous adversary for anybody. The dream is still VERY much alive, my friend!

John, I'm just going by this; accurate or no, hard to say:

http://realtimerpi.com/bracketology/b...

John_10065 writes:

in response to emailnodata:

unfortunately almost no chance at all to get to the NCAA. All those close losses bite.

I'd love to see the NCAA go to a full playoff: seed 48, then have everyone else play for the last 16 spots (takes maybe 3-4 games).

Thus, a team like UT who is putting it together at season's end gets a chance.

BS!

UT is on the bubble looking in right now. Finish the season with wins and look good in the SEC tourney and the boys are NCAA bound.

I know we had some awful, disheartening close loses early in the season but the teams we lost to mostly aren't bad teams and have bids of their own brewing.

They're in the mix and it's the team's own to lose that bid and I think after last season they know it. We need to avenge that loss in Athens and take Mizzou to the house. And keep the pedal against the metal at Auburn.

All it takes is a couple loses from teams in front of us to get a two round bye and really the way this team is playing I am not sure they need a two round bye to go deep in the SEC tourney.

Basketvol writes:

in response to johnlg00:

I'm sure we would like to have the UVA and G'town games back; wins in those two, and the Vols are a shoo-in for the NCAA. However, those games are ancient history. The NCAA has historically given extra consideration to teams that are hot late, which the Vols certainly have been. Of course, if they go into the tank and lose a couple of these last ones and do their traditional disappearing act in the SEC tourney, all bets are off. Somehow, I don't think this team will flop like that. They just seem to have that indefinable "something" that distinguishes teams from the pack. Everybody is hustling and contributing. With Stokes, McRae, and Golden, they have the kind of star power the NCAA likes to reward. With their gritty total team play, they are a dangerous adversary for anybody. The dream is still VERY much alive, my friend!

That loss against Georgetown looms larger and larger as the season goes on. That game could be the difference. Like you said though, that's in the past. I wouldn't mind playing them again, or Memphis, or Ole Miss. I guarantee this--nobody wants to play this team right now. Go Vols!

RashaadSalabeb writes:

We are hitting on all cylinders! Keep it going guys. Floriduh is over rated too. Fight to the bitter end and win each game that's before you...one at a time. We believe in you and it's obvious now that you believe in yourselves!

Go Big Orange!

johnlg00 writes:

in response to emailnodata:

John, I'm just going by this; accurate or no, hard to say:

http://realtimerpi.com/bracketology/b...

Hey, works for me! Thanks for posting that. We all know anything can happen in this season STILL. There is no margin for error. All the team can do is keep winning and all we fans can do is keep hoping. In any case, I am loving the moments this team has given us and confident of a bright future for the Vols on down the road.

SouthPaVol writes:

This team showed heart, and surprisingly Florida did not. Can't get over how they laid down and wet on themselves like a whipped puppy. Maybe it was Stokes putting that #20 size shoe up their A@@ that silenced the Gators; or maybe McRae hanging 27 on them; or stifling defense; or superb bench play; or heads-up coaching? Whatever it is causing these guys to give that extra little bit, I like it.

Everybody enjoys winning; every team wants to win. Difference is, this team believes they can win. If we win out, then win the SEC tourney (next 6 games) we are in the NCAA tourney at like a 6th seed. Go Vols!

Pipe_Down_Otis writes:

Funny, everyone on here was disgusted with Martin a month ago. We were lucky against Fla....Stokes should have had at least 10 more points. But we'll see how it turns out if they get in, the tourney is wide open this year.

John_10065 writes:

in response to Pipe_Down_Otis:

Funny, everyone on here was disgusted with Martin a month ago. We were lucky against Fla....Stokes should have had at least 10 more points. But we'll see how it turns out if they get in, the tourney is wide open this year.

Not me, I've been a supporter of Martin's since he came here and I realized his pedigree and what his peers said about him.

I got disheartened with Stokes for not playing up to his size and thought at one time that we needed to change the mascot to a bricklayer.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to Pipe_Down_Otis:

Funny, everyone on here was disgusted with Martin a month ago. We were lucky against Fla....Stokes should have had at least 10 more points. But we'll see how it turns out if they get in, the tourney is wide open this year.

Projecting a bit, are we? Most of us were "disgusted" with the way the team was playing earlier, but many of us were smart enough not to fall for the simple notion of: "team bad--coach bad". Or perhaps more accurately: "team has a few bad games--coach bad". And if the Vols were "lucky" against Florida, don't you think it could just be "bad luck" that the Vols couldn't make another bucket or two against UVA and G'town?

If you have seen much college ball this year, you would know that darned near everybody has had spells where they didn't play well. The great thing for the Vols is that they are playing their best ball now, when a #1- or #2-ranked team has been beaten every week for the last couple of months. So far, the Vols are still on the rise! Think coaching might have something to do with that?

Basketvol writes:

in response to Pipe_Down_Otis:

Funny, everyone on here was disgusted with Martin a month ago. We were lucky against Fla....Stokes should have had at least 10 more points. But we'll see how it turns out if they get in, the tourney is wide open this year.

Not everyone. Definitely not me.

Want to participate in the conversation? Become a subscriber today. Subscribers can read and comment on any story, anytime. Non-subscribers will only be able to view comments on select stories.

Features