It's been a rough few days in sports for the Volunteers.
On the heels of serious recruiting allegations against the Tennessee Volunteers football program, the UT basketball team came into Gainesville with an opportunity to provide Vols fans a reason to cheer and remain at just one loss on the year with a win over Florida.
However, looking to avoid their second straight loss, the Gators came out motivated to get add to the misery and earn a victory over their rivals from Rocky Top. Despite the absences of Colin Castleton and Scottie Lewis from the lineup, Florida reigned victorious and threw a slight jab at the turmoil occurring in Knoxville via this postgame tweet.
Florida played their role as the underdog well and got a win that feels eerily similar to the one they secured last season against Auburn, where Omar Payne provided the spark, and the Gators shot near-50% from the floor.
Here are three takeaways from the Gators trouncing of the Volunteers 75-49 at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.
Omar Payne makes a case for more playing time in Colin Castelton’s absence
When Omar brings the Payne, Florida wins big.
Averaging just 14 minutes per game through the first 10 games of the season, Omar Payne has struggled to find the rhythm necessary to make a large impact for the Gators consistently.
Best known for his 19-point, 11-rebound performance last season in a big upset victory over the Auburn Tigers, Payne has been called by many (including me) to see more action in his sophomore season.
Finally getting his chance to see a heavy workload for the first time in his Gators career, Payne was given 27 minutes on the court to showcase his talents.
Once again, the 6-foot-10, 230-pound power forward played a huge role in upsetting a heavy-favorited SEC opponent, solidifying a case for more playing time even when starting center Colin Castelton returns from the ankle injury he suffered against Mississippi State on Saturday.
Connecting on 4-of-5 shots from the floor on Tuesday night, Payne accounted for nine points, nine rebounds, and five blocks for a well-rounded outing.
Despite the lack of flashy numbers, his production on the boards (refer to my final takeaway) and rim-protecting presence was huge in upsetting the sixth-ranked team in the nation.
Upon Castleton’s return, employing a big man lineup that consists of him and Payne occupying the four and five spots could prove beneficial for a Florida team that struggles to contend with teams sporting an abundance of length.
Domination of the boards comes as a surprise
As a unit that has—at times—been heavily outmatched due to the length of opposing teams, Florida looked as if it could have another tough night on the glass against Tennessee without the lengthy individuals Lewis or Castleton.
However, that was not the case.
Out-rebounding UT by 11 on the defensive end and eight rebounds total, Florida came down with 44 boards compared to just 36 from the Volunteers, leading to more possessions to capitalize.
Recording eight players to secure three or more rebounds on the evening, Florida’s consistency crashing the boards led to opportunities pushing the basketball in the other direction, directly aiding their efforts to score the basketball at a quick pace.
With the number of Gators flocking to the basketball on Tuesday night, the hustle and energy exhibited by the unit on the court was a testament to the potential Florida basketball carries.
While there are still steps to take to fully find their identity on both ends of the floor, relentless effort to crash the boards and score in transition is a legitimate recipe for success as the year continues.
Barrage of buckets was too much for Tennessee to combat
Coming into the contest, the Tennessee Volunteers sported—statistically—the second-best defense in the entire nation for the 2020-21 season.
However, a historically stagnant UF offense found its groove against Rick Barnes’s unit for a spectacular showing from the floor.
Finally rekindling the flame that guided Florida to some early season victories, the Gators were able to find easy points throughout the night, shooting just under 50% from the floor.
Scoring 21 of their 31 buckets in the lane, the increase in shot efficiency can be attributed to more ball movement on the evening, accounting for 4 more assists (15) than their season average (11)—a differential that would move them from 251st to tied for 91st in the nation.
Add in a defensive effort that included 11 steals and seven blocks, 18 total turnovers, and a 29.3% field goal percentage by Tennessee, Florida gave themselves opportunities to turn good defense into quick points throughout the night.
Despite being led in scoring by trio of guards Noah Locke, Tre Mann, and Tyree Appleby, combining for 52% (39) of Florida’s 75 points on the evening, the presence in the paint was their bread and butter throughout the night and proved to be a vital piece in their 26 point victory when the clock struck zeros.
Dominating in nearly all facets of the game throughout the night, knocking down nearly 50% of your shots is one that may not be sustainable but is definitely the most impressive considering the difficulty in doing so.