No. 3 Tennessee dominant through first weeks of SEC schedule

Tennessee guard Admiral Schofield (5) celebrates after the team’s NCAA college basketball game against Florida on Saturday, Jan. 12, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. Tennessee won 78-67. (AP Photo/Matt Stamey)

GAINESVILLE, Fla.—Admiral Schofield has been the leader of some signature Tennessee celebrations this season.

Following the Vols win over No. 1 Gonzaga, the senior forward charged into the stands to celebrate with family who made a surprise trip to Phoenix. A week later, he trotted around the court in FedEx Forum holding out the Tennessee on the front of his jersey.

As the final buzzer sounded on Tennessee’s 78-67 victory over rival Florida on Saturday inside Exactech Arena, he orchestrated another. Schofield, followed by a host of teammates, broke out the Gators’ signature chomp gesture and paraded down the sideline in front of the entire student section.

“The Gator chomp is always my favorite (celebration) because I’ve never liked Florida, and I never will,” Schofield said, smiling.

The celebration came after Schofield shook off sitting on the bench for seven minutes, 51 seconds after picking up his fourth foul and buried a de facto game-clinching 3-pointer with 44 seconds left to the Vols (14-1, 3-0 SEC) to their 10th consecutive victory — the first time the program has rattled off 10 wins in a row since the 2007-08 season.

Schofield spotted up in the corner as junior forward Grant Williams got the ball at the top of the key and drove to the basket. Williams was met at the rim by a few Florida defenders, allowing him to swing a pass down the baseline to a wide-open Schofield.

“Everybody has seen the Gonzaga game,” junior guard Jordan Bowden said. “We know Admiral can make big shots, and that’s what he did tonight.”

Schofield scored the Vols’ final 11 points in that win over the Bulldogs on Dec. 9, and Bowden had a similar stretch of clutch Saturday to continue a recent run of offensive success.

The Knoxville native scored 12 points in a row for UT in a two-minute, nine-second stretch late in the second half that turned a three-point deficit into a two-point lead and shifted momentum into its corner permanently.

It started with a trio of free throws after being fouled behind the arc by Keyontae Johnson that knotted things up with 7:27 remaining. A layup, a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer followed on the Vols’ next three possessions, each tying the game after Florida scores on the other end.

Then, a steal near midcourt and a transition dunk put UT ahead for good.

“That was amazing,” Schofield said. “He got easy points, easy steals, went to the free-throw line and knocked down big shots. That was big time for Bowden, especially with everything he’s been through this season. It just shows how tough we are as individuals, but also as a team.”

Bowden finished with 17 points on 5 of 11 shooting to follow up back-to-back 20-point performances against Georgia and Missouri to begin SEC play.

Williams tallied a game-high 20 points and nine rebounds while making eight of his 11 field-goal attempts. Schofield and redshirt junior guard Lamonte Turner added 14 and 12 points, respectively.

The Vols spent their day lingering in the hotel a little longer than usual, watching Ole Miss upset No. 14 Mississippi State and No. 13 Florida State nearly knock off No. 1 Duke.

A few hours later, they were on the brink of being toppled in their own game.

Instead, they pulled it together late and celebrated another victory.

“That’s the type of games these games are going to be,” coach Rick Barnes said. “It’s going to be like that from here on out. They have great respect for Florida. … We told them before the game it was going to come down to the last possession if we did our jobs and figured out a way to hang in when things weren’t going well.”

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