ATLANTA — Frustrating SEC basketball tournament exits have become fairly common for Tennessee.
A loss to top-ranked Florida in Saturday afternoon's semifinals brought a different ending that had the Volunteers shaking their heads in the locker room after the game.
Florida snapped the Vols' five-game winning streak by scoring the last seven points in a 56-49 win at the Georgia Dome.
After leading by as many as 10 in the first half and answering two of the SEC regular-season champion Gators' patented spurts, Tennessee felt it was on the short end of a couple of officiating decisions in the final five minutes.
"It's very frustrating," said Vols forward Jarnell Stokes, who had 13 points and seven rebounds. "It's almost like I forgot how losing felt because of how well we've been playing, but we didn't hit shots toward the end.
"Their defense is so great to the point where they took away the inside presence with double teams and the 3-point shot, and that really killed us."
The Vols (21-12), who now have a nervy wait to see if they will make the NCAA tournament when the bracket is unveiled this evening, scored just 14 points on 5-of-20 shooting in the second half, but they feel a couple of calls late in the game played a big part in the outcome, too.
With the game tied at 45 and 4:39 on the clock, Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon was whistled for an off-the-ball foul on Florida's Patric Young. As official Pat Adams walked toward the scorer's table to signal the foul, Maymon walked near halfcourt and mimicked Young running into him. Adams slapped the senior with a technical foul, which also counted as his fifth personal.
"I guess I was too hostile," Maymon said. "I didn't use any profanity or anything. I guess I was just too hostile trying to explain my case that I took the hit. I didn't lay the hit. [Young] laid his shoulder into me. I was just standing in his path.
"I compounded a mistake with a mistake," he added. "I put my team in a vulnerable situation the last four minutes. I apologized to them. They expect better from me. I will be better in the games we have left."
Michael Frazier hit the pair of technical free throws, and Young hit the two shots for the original foul, and Florida led by four.
"I saw Jeronne talking, and I didn't see any curse words or derogatory words," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "What he was saying was, 'He was doing it on the other end'; Patric Young, he's bumping and banging. It wasn't anything I thought deserved the tech.
"It's uncharacteristic of Jeronne because, if I'm not mistaken, I don't think he's ever gotten a technical foul."
Jordan McRae, who led Tennessee with 15 points, hit a tying 3 from the wing with 2:48 left, but Young gave the Gators (31-2), who have won 25 straight games since their last loss on Dec. 2, the lead for good with a hook shot on the next trip.
"When it was a tie ballgame," Stokes said, "it seemed like they wanted it more."
With his team up 53-49, Florida's Scottie Wilbekin caught Tennessee's Antonio Barton up high with an elbow, but after a lengthy review, it was not ruled a flagrant foul.
"The word I got from the official is he grazed his nose, and that means he hit him," Martin said. "His nose is above the neck. If there's a hit, then there's a hit. I thought he was shooting free throws.
"When you're going down to the wire against a very talented team down the stretch," he continued, "your margin for error has to be very slim. I think those two [calls] were very costly for us."
Armani Moore missed a corner 3 on the Vols' next possession, and that was that.
"We were right there," McRae said. "We didn't score the ball well in the second half. That's what happened."
After Florida jumped out to an early lead, Tennessee responded with a 14-4 run to take a six-point lead, later countered a Gators surge with an 8-0 spurt to go up 33-23 and led 35-28 at halftime.
The Vols shot nearly 54 percent and outscored Florida 20-12 in the paint in the first half, but the Gators cranked up their stifling defense after the break.
Tennessee went nearly 10 minutes between its final two baskets of the game -- a Stokes putback with 12:16 left and McRae's tying 3 -- and committed 11 turnovers in the second half while shooting just 2-of-13 on 3s for the game.
"I just thought they played well defensively," Martin said. "I thought we had some opportunities to make shots and didn't capitalize on them. We didn't get to the free-throw line or make 3s.
"Going into the game, as a staff, you want to get about five or six 3-point shots to go in for you to loosen the defense up, and I just think going into the second half, [Florida] probably figured, 'OK, we're not letting Jeronne and Jarnell beat us, and we'll make those perimeter guys beat us.'"
"I think we did a good job of just being able to come back from all their runs," McRae said, "but it's no moral wins."
Just another frustrating finish.
Contact Patrick Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 ...