Tennessee forward Grant Williams (2) is defended under the basket by Florida center Gorjok Gak (12) in the first half of Wednesday’s game in Knoxville.
Williams brought Thompson-Boling Arena to its feet with a vicious one-hand slam to cap his 23-point night and help No. 19 Tennessee outlast Florida 62-57 on Wednesday night.
And he got his chance to shine at the podium during the post-game press conference.
“I feel like (Tennessee) Coach (Rick) Barnes up here,” Williams joked. “Rick’s effort was pretty good tonight. I think he was running up and down the court pretty well. Got out in transition.”
Williams went 8-of-13 from the floor and 7-of-8 from the foul line. He drained a trio of jumpers in the second half before his aforementioned dunk, his last one putting the Volunteers (20-7, 10-5 SEC) ahead 54-45 with 4:13 remaining.
“He is so strong and he’s so disciplined with his ability to post with ultimate physicality the entire time he’s on the floor,” Florida coach Mike White said. “I thought he wore us down.”
Admiral Schofield joined Williams in double figures with 16 points while grabbing a team-high eight rebounds, hitting 7-of-17 from the field and completing his scoring with an and-one to give Tennessee a 44-36 lead with 8:14 remaining. Schofield also buried a 3-pointer early in the second half, and Lamonte Turner followed suit for a 33-23 advantage.
“I had no idea that was our 20th win until one of my assistants just told me,” Barnes said. “I really didn’t. I just go day to day, man.”
But he and the Volunteers now know they hold a two-game lead over Alabama for second place overall in the Southeastern Conference race.
Florida (17-11, 8-7) got within one point three different occasions in the second half but never pulled even, the final time coming when Dontay Bassett countered a Williams layup with one of his own for a 37-36 Tennessee lead at the 11:05 mark. But the Volunteers scored the next seven points and never led by fewer than three.
Keith Stone and Jalen Hudson both drained 3-pointers to keep the Gators alive, the latter slicing the deficit to 57-53 before Chris Chiozza’s layup pulled Florida within 60-57 with 25 seconds left.
But Jordan Bowden then sank a pair of free throws to put the game away.
Hudson drained two 3-pointers and led Florida with 13 points while Stone and Chiozza scored 11 apiece.
The Volunteers scored the first six points and took a 12-5 lead on Jordan Bone’s jumper with 11:32 in the first half, but Florida countered with a 12-4 run to take its only lead at 17-16 as Chiozza converted a layup.
Two foul shots by Williams gave UT the lead back before James Daniel III busted a 3-pointer for a 21-17 edge. Schofield and Williams both finished layups, and the latter buried a midrange jumper with 26 seconds on the clock to put the Vols ahead 27-18 at intermission.