Florida upends No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 behind Colin Castleton

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Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Colin Castleton had 20 points and nine rebounds, Kyle Lofton added 14 points and Florida used a 13-0 run late in the second half to upend No. 2 Tennessee 67-54 on Wednesday night.

The Volunteers, playing with their highest ranking in four years, lost for the first time in five games. They had won nine of 10.

Tennessee (18-4, 7-2 Southeastern Conference) looked like it had taken control midway through the second half. They outscored Florida by 10 points in the early going to take a six-point lead.

But the Gators (13-9, 6-3) stormed back behind Castleton, who scored 11 of 14 points as Florida rallied. The senior had a dunk, two free throws, a three-point play, a layup and a short jumper – essentially putting the team on his back down the stretch.

Myreon Jones and Will Richard chipped in nine points apiece for the Gators.

Zakai Ziegler led the Vols with 15 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Olivier Nkamhoua added 11 points and nine rebounds for the vistors, who also got 11 points and eight boards from Vescovi Santiago.

Florida led 27-21 at halftime, just the fifth time the Volunteers has trailed at the break this season. Tennessee rallied to win three of the previous four.

The Gators were red hot to start, making six of their first eight shots – including all three from 3-point range – while building a 17-4 advantage. But they quickly cooled against the nation’s best defense, missing nine of their next 11 as Tennessee made cut it to 22-21.

The Vols had it going coming out of the locker room, with Ziegler getting into the paint and making things happen. But it was short-lived – thanks mostly to Castleton.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Tennessee surely will drop a few spots in next week’s AP Top 25 college basketball poll.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Volunteers gave up 10 points in the opening four minutes of the games, a rare sluggish start for the nation’s best defense. Tennessee had held four of its first eight SEC opponents scoreless at the first media timeout, roughly the first four minutes of games. It was a sign of things to come.

Florida: The Gators have been resilient much of the season, and this was arguably the most impressive comeback of the season for coach Todd Golden’s team. The Gators squandered a 13-point lead early and a six-point advantage in the second half. But they rallied when it mattered.

IN THE HOUSE

Football coach Billy Napier watched the game from a few rows behind Florida’s bench alongside his two sons and receiver Ricky Pearsall. Former Florida tennis star Ben Shelton, the NCAA singles champion in 2022, also was in attendance. So was former Gators and NFL quarterback Doug Johnson.

UP NEXT

Tennessee hosts No. 25 Auburn and former coach Bruce Pearl on Saturday.

Florida plays at Kentucky on Saturday. The Gators have lost seven of eight in the series.

Zeigler leads No. 9 Tennessee over Mississippi State 70-59

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
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STARKVILLE, Miss. – Following a loss at home against Kentucky and having starters Santiago Vescovi and Tyreke Key out, No. 9 Tennessee was on upset alert at Mississippi State on Tuesday.

The Bulldogs proved that in the first 15 minutes of the game, running up a nine-point lead, but the Volunteers settled into the game. After tying at 23 at the half, Tennessee went 8 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half and scored 47 points in the final 20 minutes to win 70-59 on the road.

“That’s a great team character win for our team. The fact that we had two starters out and started the game with a lineup that I probably never practiced together,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I thought after the eight minutes mark, Zakai Zeigler really settled down and played terrific, playing 40 minutes the way that he did. Our team had great respect for Mississippi State because other than that game at our place when we could have beaten anybody in the country, (Mississippi State) has been in every game.”

The Vols (15-3, 5-1 SEC) shot 2 of 15 from 3-point range in the first half as the Bulldogs clamped down on Tennessee but it was a different story in the final 20 minutes. Zeigler had 14 points in the second half and Tennessee doubled its production from the first half.

Mississippi St. (12-6, 1-5) improved on its first half total as well. The pace played out of the Bulldogs’ realm, however, as the defense-minded Mississippi St. couldn’t keep up with the hot-shooting Vols.

Tennessee’s Julian Phillips had 18 points and 11 rebounds while Josiah-Jordan James finished with 13. Tennessee shot 23 of 51 (45%) from the field in the game with a 42% 3-point night. The Vols were also big from the line, making 14 of 15.

After turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, the Vols finished with 17 turnovers for the game.

“I just tried to be more aggressive, find my shots and rebound the ball better,” Phillips said. “We didn’t have (Vescovi or Key) two of our leading scorers, so we were missing some points there. It was next man up.”

Mississippi St. shot 19 of 57 from the field as offensive struggles continue. The Bulldogs made 7 of 26 from 3-point range and had 14 of 22 from the free-throw line.

Shakeel Moore scored a career-high 20 points for the Bulldogs, making all eight of his free-throw attempts, and Tolu Smith had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Tennessee won the rebounding battle 39-31.

“We’re a good basketball team. If we stick together and stay the course, we’ll have opportunities to win games in the league this year,” Mississippi State coach Chris Jans said. “It’s a big challenge that we all face. It starts with me and my staff to set the mood and the vibe, stay hungry, continue to work and believe. That will be the big focus for us heading into the Florida game.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: After a rough loss to Kentucky at home last week, the Vols needed a bounce back. It wasn’t easy, but the second-half answer spoke volumes, overcoming a nine-point deficit.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs continue to slide having lost six of the last seven games, but that isn’t the full story. Mississippi St. continues to make progress in year one under Jans.

UP NEXT

Tennessee travels to LSU on Saturday.

Mississippi State hosts Florida on Saturday night.

Calipari, Kentucky silence doubters, beat No. 5 Tennessee

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Negativity has dogged the Kentucky basketball program since its disappointing loss to South Carolina on Tuesday.

Heading into Saturday’s 63-56 win over No. 5 Tennessee, Wildcats coach John Calipari did his best to insulate his players while absorbing as many bullets as possible himself.

“I haven’t lost faith in any of these guys,” he said. “I’ve got a good team. (Friday night), I collected all the (players’ cell) phones and iPads and everything else.”

Antonio Reeves scored 18 points and Oscar Tshiebwe had 15 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Wildcats (11-6, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) over the Volunteers. The victory ended a 25-game home win streak for Tennessee (14-3, 4-1) that dated back to the end of the 2020-21 season.

Kentucky led 58-50 with 3:28 left in the game. Two free throws by Santiago Vescovi and two buckets by Uros Plavsic closed the gap to two with less than a minute to play.

A Wildcat turnover gave Tennessee a shot to tie or take the lead, but Zakai Zeigler and Plavsic missed down low.

“Both coaches made it a slugfest,” said Calipari. “Nobody backed down.”

The Wildcats showed a physical presence and dominated the Volunteers on the boards, 43-23. Tennessee came into the game leading the SEC in rebounding margin (+9.94).

“Our frontline’s gotta do a better job rebounding,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “On the defensive end, we have to get everyone involved.”

The Tennessee big man Plavsic, who scored 19 points, was the only Vol to match Kentucky’s physicality.

Calipari said the strategy was to focus on the Vols’ perimeter play, while letting Plavsic have his way.

“They can beat us with 3s,” said Calipari. “They won’t beat us with 2s.”

CJ Fredrick scored eight in a row and had 10 of his 13 points in the first half as Kentucky led at the break, 33-26.

Vescovi, who tweaked his shooting (left) shoulder in a collision early in the game, had seven in the first half for Tennessee. He finished with 13 points.

“We had some uncontested looks at the rim,” Barnes said. “Point-blank layups – you’ve gotta make them.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

During his 36 seasons as a head coach in college basketball, Rick Barnes has led his teams into the AP Top 25 a total of 299 weeks. That includes 131 weeks in the Top 10.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: Besides the frustration that comes with six losses this early in the season, the Wildcats have had to deal with injury problems. G Cason Wallace (back) and F Jacob Toppin (shoulder) have been sidelined. Both started against the Vols. . Big man Oscar Tshiebwe leads the SEC with 10 double-doubles this season. . Sahvir Wheeler leads the SEC with 6.3 assists a game. This is his third straight year on top. . John Calipari coached his 36th game against Tennessee. No other coach has led his team against the Vols in as many games.

Tennessee: Senior G Santiago Vescovi has been hot lately. He came into the Kentucky game averaging 16.5 points over his last five games while shooting 60% from the field and 57% from 3-point. . Zakai Ziegler, who has gotten used to his role as a point guard coming off the bench, had 27 assists in his last three games heading into Saturday. . Chris Lofton (2004-08), the SEC’s all-time leader in 3-point baskets made (431), had his No. 5 hoisted into the rafters of Thompson-Boling Arena.

UP NEXT

Kentucky: Hosts Georgia on Tuesday.

Tennessee: Visits Mississippi State on Tuesday.

Nkamhoua’s perfect game leads No. 8 Vols to 85-42 victory

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Jim Dedmon/USA TODAY Sports
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COLUMBIA, S.C. — Olivier Nkamhoua scored a season-high 21 points on 10-of-10 shooting and No. 8 Tennessee dominated from the start for an 85-42 victory over South Carolina on Saturday.

The Vols (13-2) started 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference for the first time in four seasons and showed the depth and talent to think that streak in the rugged league could continue.

Nkamhoua, a 6-foot-9 senior forward, led Tennessee with 10 rebounds for his second double-double this season.

Nkamhoua, who went 5 for 5 for 10 points in an 83-57 win over Mississippi State on Tuesday, continued his run of perfection against the Gamecocks.

He was a major part in the Vols’ quick start, scoring seven points the first 10 minutes as Tennessee built a 24-7 lead on the way to its ninth victory in the past 10 games with South Carolina (7-8, 0-2).

The Vols broke out to a 15-3 lead and never looked back.

South Carolina missed 10 of 11 shots during one stretch and settled for outside shots, which the Gamecocks struggled to connect on as they were 1 of 13 on 3s the first 20 minutes.

Tennessee took advantage of South Carolina’s defensive lapses to build a 43-21 lead at the break.

Nkamhoua hit all five of his shots and the Vols shot 60.7% (17 of 28) in the opening half.

Tennessee was in such command that coach Rick Barnes called a timeout – the Vols led 40-21 – with 15.5 seconds before halftime to practice a late-game situation. It worked perfectly as the Vols worked the ball around to Santiago Vescovi, who drained an uncontested 3-pointer as the clock ran out.

Jonas Aidoo had 15 points, while Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James added 12 apiece for the Vols, who shot better than 50% for the third time in the past four games.

Meechie Johnson had 19 points for South Carolina.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: The Vols have the deep, skilled roster necessary to win championships. The trick for Barnes will be keeping them engaged in the grind the next two months before the SEC and NCAA Tournaments take off.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks spent too much time in this one shooting from way outside – with predictable results for a team ranked last in SEC shooting. South Carolina went just 2 of 20 on 3s and five-star freshman Gregory “GG” Jackson finished with on points on 0-of-7 shooting.

UP NEXT

Tennessee is home Tuesday to face Vanderbilt.

South Carolina plays at Kentucky on Tuesday.

Vescovi leads No. 7 Tennessee past Mississippi 63-59

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
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OXFORD, Miss. – Tennessee was expecting a challenging Southeastern Conference opener, and Mississippi provided a stiff test.

Then Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler delivered for the Vols.

Vescovi scored 22 points and combined with Zeigler to convert six free throws in the final 1:09, helping No. 7 Tennessee top Mississippi 63-59 on Wednesday.

“It’s going to be a grind every night,” Volunteers coach Rick Barnes said. “It’s the kind of game we expected. They were tougher than us in the first half, but in the second half, we played well and did the things that have gotten us to this point. Overall, it’s a real good win.”

Vescovi converted two free throws to make it 63-57 with 19 seconds remaining. Zeigler added 13 points as Tennessee (11-2, 1-0) rallied from an early 10-point hole and a 34-28 halftime deficit.

“Starting the conference schedule with a `W’ really means a lot to us,” Vescovi said. “It’s a real confidence boost. Good road win.”

Ole Miss (8-5, 0-1) was led by Jaemyn Brakefield with 18 points, including four 3-pointers in the second half. Amaree Abram added 10 points while Matthew Murrell, averaging 15.6 points per game, was held to five points on 1-for-11 shooting.

“Those two guards (Vescovi and Zeigler) were really good, maybe the toughest in the league,” Mississippi coach Kermit Davis said. “But this was typical Ole Miss and Tennessee. Our guys competed their tails off and Tennessee got it done at the end. Tennessee is impressive.”

Jonas Aidoo had a game-high 13 rebounds as the Vols outrebounded Ole Miss 38-28.

“I told Jonas that I didn’t need him to shoot like he was in the first half,” Barnes said. “I needed him to make the difference inside by being physical. … That was big for us in the second half.”

Ole Miss finished 19 of 51 (37%) from the field. It converted only seven baskets in the second half, including four by Brakefield.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: It wasn’t pretty, but winning the SEC road opener was the top priority. The Vols proved capable of grinding it out despite falling behind 31-21 in the opening 15 minutes. The defense and rebounding were the difference in the second half, limiting Ole Miss to 7 of 25 from the field.

Ole Miss: The loss was disappointing, especially after a deflating home loss to North Alabama and an inconsistent December. The defense and Brakefield had quality performances, but the Rebels were not strong enough to overcome an atypical shooting night by Murrell.

“We aren’t going to hang our heads, there is a long way to go,” Brakefield said. “We played hard and they did, too. They made the shots at the end.”

UP NEXT

Tennessee: The SEC home opener is a visit from No. 21 Mississippi State on Jan. 3.

Ole Miss: The Rebels begin a two-game road trip at No. 8 Alabama on Jan. 3.

Zeigler, No. 7 Tennessee hold off No. 13 Maryland 56-53

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Jessica Alcheh/USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — Zakai Zeigler scored 12 points, including a key 3 late in the second half as No. 7 Tennessee held off No. 13 Maryland 56-53 Sunday in a Basketball Hall of Fame Invitational matchup.

Tennessee (9-1) led by as many as 18 points in the first half before Maryland pulled within two points in the final minutes.

Tyreke Key scored nine points and Julian Phillips had six points and 10 rebounds for the Volunteers. Tennessee began the game allowing just 51.2 points per game, third fewest in the nation.

Jahmir Young scored 18 points while Hakim Hart and Donta Scott had nine apiece for Maryland (8-2), which has lost two straight.

Tennessee shot 11 of 39 (28.2%) in the first half, but led 34-17 as the Terrapins made only 3 of 24 (12.5%), missing 20 of their final 21 shots before the break.

Down by 16 in the second half, Maryland unveiled a full-court press and forced three turnovers during a 12-0 run.

A 3-pointer by Key ended the burst, but the Terrapins scored the next five points and pulled within 48-46 on a pair of free throws by Ian Martinez. Maryland got within two again at 51-49 when Martinez hit one of two free throws, after which Ziegler hit his 3-pointer with 3:05 left.

Hart had a layup for Maryland, which then forced Tennessee into a shot clock violation. The teams combined to miss their next five shots before Hart scored a second-chance layup with 24 seconds left to cut the deficit to 55-53.

The teams traded empty trips, with Young missing a potential game-tying floater. Key made one of two foul shots with seven seconds left and Young missed a contested 3-pointer at the buzzer.

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: guard Santiago Vescovi had seven points and seven rebounds in his return after missing two games with a shoulder injury. . The 17-point first half by Maryland marked the fourth time this season the Vols allowed fewer than 20 points in a half.

Maryland: It was the second straight subpar shooting game for the Terrapins, who shot 49.3% from the field during their 8-0 start but have shot just 35.5% in the last two games. . The 18-point deficit was the biggest of the season for the Terps.

UP NEXT

Tennessee: Visiting Arizona next Saturday for the first time since 1998.

Maryland: Hosting No. 14 UCLA on Wednesday night – the Terrapins’ third game against a ranked opponent this month.