It may not have been the most aesthetically pleasing win of the year, but Tennessee’s 62-57 victory over Florida provided validation on two important points.
One: the Vols handled Florida’s elite guards. The Gators shot 35% from the floor, and 57 points is their second-lowest total on the year. Chiozza finished with a flurry for 11 points and 9 assists, but Koulechov was 3-for-10 and KeVaughn Allen went 0-for-3. It came at the expense of 13 offensive rebounds, but Tennessee relentlessly ran at Florida on the arc, and the Gators hit just 6-of-24.
Teams with great guards have gotten the best of Tennessee several times this season. But tonight, the Vols defended really well for most of the game, and made sure Florida’s penetration didn’t get the best of them. Bone, Turner, and Daniel combined for just 14 points (22.5% of the total, which is still in the sweet spot). But they did a good job defending against solid competition, which bodes well for this team in March.
And the rest of the offense was more than covered by tonight’s second point of validation.
Two: Grant Williams is still a bad man. Coming off his worst game of the season at Georgia, Williams ate Florida’s guard-heavy lineup alive. Despite being burdened with foul trouble, Williams was 8-of-13 from the floor and 7-of-8 at the line for 23 points, along with six rebounds.
The Vols were up 10 with five minutes to play, but Florida kept attacking. Williams responded with Tennessee’s next seven points, keeping the Vols up multiple possessions. And particularly tonight, it didn’t seem to matter where he caught the ball on the floor. He just went right at an undersized defense that had no answers. The most important question when we get to March, especially with increased confidence in Tennessee’s backcourt defense, is what kind of match-ups will Williams see in the bracket. The Vols are good enough to win even when facing teams that do have some kind of answer for him. But Williams is good enough to just take over if teams don’t.
Auburn just keeps winning, but the Vols are now two games up on the six teams tied for third place. A couple of those somebodies are going to play on Thursday in the SEC Tournament. Tennessee is really close to making sure it won’t be them.
This win restored confidence in what the Vols are doing and in their best player, and bolstered it in response to their greatest weakness. Tennessee can shoot threes better than they did tonight, but this win is another reminder that they can do just that even when those shots aren’t falling. And it adds to a resume that should keep the Vols among the top four seeds in both the SEC and the Bracket Matrix with three regular season games to play.
Go Vols. Well done.