KNOXVILLE — Jordan McRae scored 27 points and Tennessee boosted its NCAA tournament hopes by beating No. 8 Florida 64-58 on Tuesday night, the Volunteers’ sixth consecutive victory.
McRae had a career-high 34 points against LSU and 23 points against Texas A&M in the two games leading up to this one. He scored 17 points in the first half Tuesday and was the lone Volunteer to reach double figures.
Jarnell Stokes had eight points and 14 rebounds as Tennessee (17-10, 9-6 Southeastern Conference) won the lone regular-season meeting between these rivals. This marks the first time since 1964 that Florida and Tennessee aren’t facing each other twice in the regular season.
Mike Rosario scored 16 points, Patric Young added 15 and Casey Prather had 10 for Florida (22-5, 12-3). The SEC-leading Gators were playing without injured forward Will Yeguette (knee) and guard Michael Frazier II (concussion).
Tennessee has revived its postseason chances with this winning streak and helped its cause even more by beating the SEC leaders. The Vols travel to Georgia on Saturday, visit Auburn on March 6 and host Missouri on March 9 in their final three regular-season games.
The importance of the game brought one of the most boisterous crowds of the season to Thompson-Boling Arena, and McRae energized the 19,567 fans with an early steal and dunk to open the scoring. Florida calmly responded with nine straight points and continued to lead for most of the first half.
But the Vols hung around and moved back in front just before halftime largely because of McRae, who was 7 of 12 from the field, including 3 of 7 from 3-point range.
The 6-foot-5 junior scored eight straight Tennessee points during one stretch that led to a 3-pointer by Skylar McBee that put Tennessee back ahead 34-32 with 1:50 remaining in the half. A free throw by Yemi Makanjuola in the final second of the half gave Tennessee a 35-32 lead.
Tennessee needed a big performance from McRae because Trae Golden and Stokes weren’t as productive as they had been for most of this winning streak.
Golden, the reigning SEC player of the week, shot 1 of 6 and scored just two points in the first half. Stokes, who entered the game with eight double-doubles in his last nine games, played just 11 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
Florida scored the first five points of the second half to regain the lead at 37-35. When Stokes picked up his third foul with 17:06 left, the Gators seemed poised to take control.
It didn’t happen.
McRae blocked a shot on one end of the court and got a dunk on the other end to tie the game with 16:34 left. Golden delivered a driving basket 40 seconds later to put the Vols back in front. The Vols stayed ahead the rest of the way.
Florida’s last hope faded when Tennessee’s Josh Richardson drew a charge to nullify a basket by Rosario that would have cut the Vols’ lead to 61-58 with 28.3 seconds remaining.