ATLANTA – Tennessee played on Saturday in the Southeastern Conference tournament each of the past three seasons.
League champion Florida made sure the Volunteers didn’t make it four.
The Gators took control midway through the second half and cruised to a 85-74 win over UT on Friday night in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament at the Georgia Dome.
Freshman Tobias Harris tied a career high with 25 points for UT (19-14), which will find out its NCAA tournament fate on Sunday evening. Scotty Hopson scored 19 points, but made just six of 14 shots and turned the ball over seven times. Skylar McBee added 10 off the bench
Kenny Boynton scored all but two of his 22 points in the second half for Florida (25-6), which won its first league crown since the second of its back-to-back national titles seasons in 2006 and 2007. Boynton made all 10 of his free-throw attempts. Erving Walker (17), Vernon Macklin (15), Chandler Parsons (12) and Alex Tyus (10) - all five Florida starters - scored in double figures.
The Vols didn’t advance to the SEC semifinals for a 16-year span from 1992 to 2007 before their current three-year run.
Florida beat the Vols for the third time this season, though UT didn’t have a chance to win this one at the end of regulation like it did in the two regular-season matchups.
Florida scorched the nets from the opening tip, draining 12 of its first 18 shots in building a 25-13 lead midway through the first half.
That’s when the Vols ratcheted up their defense and relied on Harris’ own scorching offensive play. Florida made just one of their last 11 shots heading into halftime and didn’t score for the final 6:21, and UT closed the half on a 18-2 run capped by Harris’ corner 3-pointer.
Harris, who scored 16 first-half points on Thursday night against Arkansas, had 18 in the first half on Friday on eight-of-10 shooting. The rest of the Vols made just six of their 19 combined shots.
The Vols led 44-41 when the Gators went on a 18-8 run over a span of five minutes. Florida made nine of their first 11 second-half shots and led 59-52 with 9:25 remaining.
After UT cut it to 66-61 on two free throws by Harris, the Gators went on a 9-1 spurt capped by Boynton’s trey from in front of the Florida bench to put Florida up 75-62 with 4:21 left.
Florida took its largest lead at 80-66 on two free throws by Patric Young. Hopson’s 3-pointer made it 80-70 with two minutes left, though the Vols got no closer than nine.
Florida shot 82 percent in the second half, and made 24 of 33 free throws. The Gators took just 17 shots, but the Vols were whistled for 21 second-half fouls. Florida was called for 12 second-half fouls of their own.
More coverage online and in Saturday's Times Free Press.