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ATLANTA -- Tennessee's bid for an upset of top-ranked Florida fell just short on Saturday afternoon in the SEC semifinals.
Yet the regular-season champion Gators' 56-49 win at the Georgia Dome wasn't without its talking points.
A late technical foul and another late flagrant proved costly for Tennessee (21-12), but the Vols, who led by as many as 10 in the first half, scored just 14 points on 5-of-20 shooting after an impressive first half against perhaps the stingiest defensive team in the nation.
Despite some level of controversy regarding the officiating, Tennessee still had the game tied at 49 with a little more than two-and-a-half minutes left in the game.
Much like it did in a 67-58 win in Knoxville in February, Florida (31-2) outscored the Vols late in the game to win its 25th straight game.
Though most NCAA tournament projections have Tennessee in the field of 68, the Vols will have a nervy wait for the brackets to be revealed on Sunday evening at 6 p.m.
Winners of five straight heading into Saturday, Tennessee essentially went toe-to-toe with the No. 1 team in the country for a second time this season, only to wilt late.
After trailing by as many as 10 in the first half and by seven at the break, Florida came out of the locker room sharper and briefly took a 38-37 lead when Kasey Hill's drive capped a 10-2 run.
Yet Tennessee responded from the Gators' initial surge with six consecutive points to retake the lead.
Florida settled in defensively and began to smother the Vols, who went nearly 10 minutes without a basket after Stokes scored on a putback at the 12:16 to give Tennessee a 43-38 lead. Tennessee scored its 10th point of the second half on a Stokes free throw with 4:57 on the clock.
A key sequence came when Jeronne Maymon was whistled for an off-the-ball foul by official Pat Adams, who then slapped the senior with a technical foul after he gestured. It was the fourth and fifth fouls on Maymon, and the Gators hit all four free throws to take a 49-45 lead with 4:39 left.
After Jordan McRae hit just Tennessee's second 3 of the game to tie it at 49-all and snap the Vols' long drought, Patric Young scored on a hook shot to give Florida a 51-49 lead.
After Florida hit four of its first five shots of the game to take a 9-5 lead, Tennessee answered with a 14-4 spurt to take a 19-13 lead on a Derek Reese 3-pointer.
The Vols were aggressively early, as McRae scored in transition, and Antonio Barton, Armani Moore and Josh Richardson each scored on drives as Tennessee scored 12 of its first 19 points in the paint.
The top-ranked Gators carried a 24-game win streak into their third meeting of the season with the Vols and countered Tennessee's spurt.
After Jeronne Maymon missed a layup, Wilbekin didn't get picked up coming down the floor and canned a 3, and Casey Prather swooped in for a slam to cut Tennessee's lead to two.
Yet the Vols answered that stretch with a 10-2 run during which McRae was active on both ends.
He scored twice in transition, then swatted Wilbekin's layup attempt off the backboard and hit a baseline jumper to push Tennessee's lead to 35-25. Wilbekin hit a 3 from atop the key at the halftime buzzer to sap some of the momentum from an impressive half by the Vols.
Tennessee, which scored 40 points against Florida in a 26-point loss in Gainesville in January, shot nearly 54 percent against the SEC's best defensive team and outscored the Gators 20-12 in the paint.
Wilbekin hit three early jump shots and hit 3-of-5 shots from 3-point range to finish the first half with 13 points.
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 ...