Florida 73, Tennessee 71
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Dametri Hill had the touch Saturday.
The Florida center from St. Petersburg scorched the nets for a career-high 30 points against Tennessee, and finished off the Vols with a game-winning jumper at the buzzer to take a 73-71 victory.
``We wanted to win it or go to overtime,″ Gator coach Lon Kruger said of the thinking on the bench after Tennessee fought back from a 17-point deficit to tie the game 71-71 on an Aaron Green 3-pointer with 29 seconds left.
Florida called timeout with 13 seconds to play. Then the Gators worked it to Hill to hit the game winner from 18 feet. The choice was obvious.
``Dametri was consistent throughout,″ Kruger said. ``He’s done that all year. He’s been doubled and has had to respond to different defenses. I couldn’t be prouder of him. It was a great effort.″
Tennessee coach Kevin O’Neill said the Vols were talking about Hill at halftime. ``We knew we had to do something about Dametri Hill, but unfortunately, he was the man who made the winning shot.″
Hill scored 19 points on 9-11 shooting in the first half to put the Gators up 36-24 at intermission. Florida shot 59 percent for the game, helped by Hill’s 13-20 from the field.
``When you let a team that is shooting 41 percent come to your place and shoot 59, you deserve to lose,″ O’Neill said. ``We played hard and made a good run, but it’s tough when you put yourself in shape that you’ve got to hit 65 percent.″
The Gators (11-15, 6-10 Southeastern Conference) snapped a five-game losing streak. Florida’s last victory was also against Tennessee (13-13, 6-10).
In a battle of senior centers, Hill came out on top against Tennessee’s Steve Hamer, who finished with 26 points, including a powering dunk and 12 of 16 from the line, and 13 rebounds.
Greg Williams with 11 points and Greg Stolt with 10 were the only other Gators in double figures. Damon Johnson scored 14 for Tennessee and Shane Williams had 18, all 3-pointers.
Tennessee, which shot 28 percent in the first half, hit 51 percent in the second stanza as the Vols fought back from a 17-point Florida lead (47-30) that came on a Hill hook with 14:48 to play.
Hamer scored 17 points in the late charge.
``It was a big win,″ Kruger said.
``It was a tough way to end the season,″ said O’Neill.
The teams now head to the SEC Tournament March 7-10 in New Orleans.