KNOXVILLE — Somehow, Jarnell Stokes got off a shot with an arm raking the Tennessee forward across the face.
Two bounces turned into one long moment.
"Too long, too long," Jordan McRae said later.
When the ball finally did fall through the net, the roof nearly blew off Thompson-Boling Arena.
That moment was the last in a number of loud moments for the Volunteers during their important 64-58 takedown of eighth-ranked Southeastern Conference leader Florida on Tuesday night.
"After a while you kind of get used to Jarnell doing that," Vols point guard Trae Golden said. "He just does things you can't teach."
The Vols (17-10, 9-6) won their sixth straight game and more importantly notched a quality win over a team ranked fourth in the official RPI rankings. Tennessee entered the game with just two wins against the RPI top 50 and none against the rankings' top 25 -- two key numbers for the NCAA tournament selection committee.
As the calendar flips to the biggest month in college basketball, Tennessee is surging.
"Is this one of the 68 teams? Without a doubt," Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said when asked of his team's NCAA tournament situation. "But you've got do your job, and that's the bottom line. For us, I'll say keep it out of someone else's hands. Let's take control of the situation."
In the season's most important game, Tennessee made a loud statement.
"It just shows that we're a good team," said McRae, who led Tennessee with 27 points. "Every team has their rough patches in the year. We had ours at the beginning, but the key is to keep rolling.
"We can't be satisfied."
Martin certainly was satisfied with his team's defense, which held the Gators (22-5, 12-3) to 16 points below their season average. A No. 1 seed in some NCAA tournament projections, Florida has cruised through the SEC and led the league in shooting percentage, 3-point percentage and assists in addition to three major defensive categories.
The Gators shot just 42 percent and made only one of 10 3-point attempts after halftime.
"The way Florida plays, and the way they can shoot the ball, they're a team that can hit two 3s bang-bang, right back to back," McRae said. "We knew that coming in. We did a great job of keeping our composure."
After McRae opened the scoring with a steal and a thunderous one-handed dunk, Florida displayed some of that offensive firepower by making 11 of its first 19 shots, with Patric Young (11 first-half points) and Mike Rosario (two first-half 3s) doing the damage.
After scoring 32 points in less than 17 minutes, Florida scored just 26 points and made just 13 of 38 shots after the hot start.
"We settled down more than anything," said Martin, now 3-0 in two seasons against Florida. "We didn't make any adjustments, really. We felt like the game plan ... it had to work, but you had to try and make sure it worked.
"Once those guys settled down, everything worked out."
McRae kept Tennessee close with 17 points before halftime, and the Vols closed the half on an 8-0 run, with Skylar McBee's go-ahead corner 3-pointer causing another roar from the crowd.
A free-flowing, fast-paced first half turned into a second-half power battle.
"At the end of the second half, every game in Thompson-Boling starts to turn into kind of a slugfest," Golden said. "That's just what happens."
Tennessee answered a five-point spurt by Florida with an 8-0 run capped by Kenny Hall's dunk. When Rosario scored to make it 51-48, McRae made two free throws, and Golden's 3-pointer in front of his bench gave Tennessee an eight-point lead and provided another loud moment.
But the Vols became stagnant offensively and went nearly seven minutes without a field goal until the defining moment when Stokes, who scored eight points and grabbed 14 rebounds -- many of them a display of his power and strength -- bulldozed his way to the rebound of McRae's point-blank miss and muscled up a shot with Erik Murphy fouling him.
"That," he said, "pretty much sealed the deal."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...
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