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Tennessee 83, Florida 69: Gators outworked and outshot by Vols in SEC road opener

Florida played about as poorly as it can for 35 minutes. And Tennessee didn't.

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Florida's worst night came on Tennessee's best. And the result was the most dispiriting loss of the young Mike White era, an 83-69 defeat that could either galvanize or haunt the Gators.

The story of this one was simple: While the Gators and Volunteers each came out of the gate on fire in the first half, Florida ran out of gas and Tennessee hit the afterburners. A Dorian Finney-Smith three cut a Tennessee lead to 22-20 midway through the first half; by half's end, Tennessee led 53-31.

That lead would swell to 30 points in the second half before a few flurries by Florida cut it to the deceptive final margin of victory.

And for the first time in the 2015-16 season, it was a failure on both ends by the Gators that doomed them to defeat. Florida shot a woeful 34.3 percent from the field on the night, and allowed Tennessee to shoot 47 percent from the field. The Vols' six threes all came in the first 23:10 of play, burying the Gators before they even had shovels ready to dig out of a hole. And Florida only made its offensive rebounding and turnover numbers look comparable to Tennessee's with feverish digging down the stretch.

They would've needed a backhoe to disinter themselves, anyway, as Kevin Punter's 26 points and Admiral Schofeld's 17 paced the Vols. KeVaughn Allen poured in 18 points to lead the Gators in scoring for the fourth straight game, but 10 of those came in the final 4:20 of play. Incredibly, Justin Leon made a third of Florida's nine threes, as Dorian Finney-Smith went 2-for-7 from distance and Allen and Chris Chiozza combined to go 2-for-8.

Florida falls to 9-5 with the loss, its first truly bad one of the season, and still lacks a "true" road win since its trip to Navy for a game that wasn't entirely populated by Midshipmen fans in its season opener. With LSU coming to Gainesville on Saturday, fresh off an impressive, nearly wire-to-wire upset of Kentucky, the Gators could have their first SEC losing streak of the White era soon.

If Florida can't play more like it did in chipping away at Tennessee's lead late, that could should probably be will.