Florida beats Tennessee 66-49, Donovan gets win No. 500
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) With the clock winding down and Florida up big, Florida fans started chanting coach Billy Donovan's name.
''Billy D, Billy D, Billy D'' echoed through the O'Connell Center.
It was a moment Donovan won't forget.
Dorian Finney-Smith had 20 points and 10 rebounds in his first game back from suspension, and Donovan notched his 500th career win with a 66-49 victory against Tennessee on Saturday.
The 49-year-old Donovan became the second-youngest coach in Division I history to reach the milestone. Hall of Famer Bob Knight was the youngest and the only other one to do it before the age of 50.
''I've been part of a lot of unbelievable experiences in that building,'' said Donovan, who has six Southeastern Conference titles, two national championships and four Final Four appearances as a coach. ''For me personally, it was very, very meaningful. ... To be kind of honored like that at the end of the game was extremely touching, and I was very, very thankful for that.''
Finney-Smith missed the last three games for an undisclosed violation of team rules, and Donovan failed to reach 500 in two chances on the road.
He got it at home as the Gators (14-15, 7-9 Southeastern Conference) won for just the second time in eight games.
''We honestly wanted to get it to him earlier,'' Finney-Smith said. ''We're just happy he got it.''
Tennessee (14-14, 6-10) lost its fifth straight - the team's first five-game losing streak since the 2000-01 season - and has dropped nine of 11 games. Armani Moore led the Vols with 18 points.
The Gators won their fourth in a row in the series, and no one could have predicted how the latest one would unfold. Then again, maybe Tennessee's last game offered a glimpse.
Vanderbilt made 16 of 19 shots, including 9 of 11 from 3-point range, in the second half against Tennessee on Thursday night. The Vols were nearly as porous with their matchup-zone defense at Florida.
The Gators shot a blistering 69.6 percent in the first half, making 16 of 23 shots and 7 of 11 from behind the arc. They had seven dunks, seven treys and recorded 14 assists on 16 baskets.
''It seems like a lot of teams have shot the ball well against us from the perimeter, and that happened against tonight,'' Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall said.
Florida closed the first half on a 15-4 run, building a 40-22 lead at the break.
Finney-Smith was a big part of the surge. Coming off the bench for the third time this season, he hit consecutive 3s and then added a nifty, left-handed reverse layup. With Finney-Smith leading the way, Florida extended its lead to 23 points early in the second half. He showed no signs of rust after missing three games and nearly a week of practice.
''The coaches did a good job of keeping me in the gym,'' said Finney-Smith, who was 6-of-10 shooting. ''Even though I wasn't playing, it felt like it. They were working me like I was playing. I stayed in shape.''
It was one of Florida's most complete games of the season. And it came without leading scorer Michael Frazier II, who missed his sixth consecutive game because of a high-ankle sprain.
But this night belonged to Donovan, who is expected to be honored with the game ball before Tuesday night's home finale against Texas A&M. Minutes after the victory, Florida announced Donovan's milestone and showed a montage of his accomplishments on video boards.
Most expected Donovan to get No. 500 in January, but it's been a rare down year for Florida.
Donovan won 20 or more games in 16 consecutive seasons before this year, advancing to the Elite Eight the last four seasons. But injuries, suspensions and under-performers have the Gators needing to win the SEC tournament to make the NCAA field.
''This year, in a lot of ways, has been very, very rewarding for me because I think I've learned a lot,'' Donovan said. ''I think I've had a chance to grow a lot through a really challenging year, so to speak, with these guys. Having a chance to help them and teach them what really goes into winning, trying to be unrelenting to get that message across, to get them to see it a bit more clearly. I think we've gotten a little bit better, but I don't think we are where we need to be.''
Tennessee: First-year coach Donnie Tyndall worked Billy Donovan camps to hone his skills. ... Tennessee still leads the all-time series 72-55.
Florida: Donovan is the 23rd fastest to reach 500 wins based on games coached.
Tennessee leading scorer Josh Richardson was mostly quiet, scoring seven points on 3-of-7 shooting. ''They kept him off balance,'' Tyndall said.
Finney-Smith went the first 22 games without a double-double. Now he has two in a row.
Tennessee plays at LSU on Wednesday.
Florida hosts Texas A&M on Tuesday.