Down three starters, Florida crushes No. 6 Tennessee

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The attitudes surrounding Gator basketball have been low. Going 1-3 in their last four, Florida looked for an underdog victory against No. 6 Tennessee. But it was not just an underdog win. The orange and blue dominated the court beating the Volunteers 75-49.
If Tennessee needed anything today it was a win. The university had been atop national headlines after football head coach Jeremy Pruitt was hired amid NCAA rule violations and allegations. Both teams were in fragile states entering into Tuesday's matchup. Florida was already missing Johnson, but they were also without 6'11Colin Castleton and their points-per-game leader Scottie Lewis. Down three starters, the Gators capitalized on Tennessee's sloppy defense and lack of offensive rebounds. Florida held Tennessee to just 29.3 percent shooting and a measly 28 points below their season average (77.2).
One Gator who stood out tonight was Omar Payne. The 6'10 sophomore did not know he would be starting until walking into the locker room before tip-off. Payne, almost a year since his breakout performance against Auburn, contributed heavily on the offense.
"He played real," teammate Noah Locke said about Payne's performance. "You can literally throw the ball anywhere in the air, and he's going to get it." Omar scored nine points. Additionally, he had nine rebounds and five blocks.

But, Omar was not the only player to light up in the paint. Tyree Appleby shot for 13 points, Tre Mann added another 12 points and Locke topped them all with 14 points and three rebounds.
On Monday, head coach Mike White revealed that he did not believe his Gators were at NCAA tournament level play. After tonight's exhibition, the confidence and attitude has risen. " "Defensively, I thought our post-trapping was on point," White said, "I thought our ball-screen defense was pretty goodOffensively, I thought we played with a lot of confidence." Florida forced 18 turnovers and made 13 steals all leading to the eventual double-digit win.
"No one's been though more than our guys," White said after reflecting on the trials and tribulations his team has faced this season. Despite this, Florida made a statement with their takedown over Tennessee.

"We showed that we can compete with any team," Locke said. And, the next team the Gators face is SEC-foe Georgia on Saturday at 2:00 p.m.
Mark Wheeler
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  • Florida has notched a top-10 win in five of its six seasons under Mike White, adding tonight's victory vs. sixth-ranked Tennessee to the list.
    • The Gators played the game without three opening-day starters Keyontae Johnson (medical), Scottie Lewis (health & safety protocol) and Colin Castleton (ankle) as four players clocked a season-high in minutes: Ques Glover, Omar Payne, Jason Jitoboh, Niels Lane.
    • It marked the Gators' fourth win vs. a top-10 team by a margin of 17+ under Mike White (17 vs. #9 WVU, 22 vs. #8 Kentucky, 22 vs. #4 Auburn, 26 vs. #6 Tennessee).
    • It tied Florida's largest win vs. a top-10 team in the AP Poll Era (1948-49), matching the 26-point margin (86-60) vs. Ohio State on Dec. 23, 2006.
  • Florida finished the game on a 20-5 run after UT had closed within 11 points just under the 10-minute mark.
  • Entering the game, Tennessee was shooting .467 from the field and limiting opponents to .385. The Gators shot .492 vs. one of the nation's highest-rated defenses and limited to UT to .293.
  • Omar Payne has figured prominently in the past two Florida wins vs. top-10 opponents. Making his first start of the season, Payne tallied nine points and nine rebounds. Payne had 19 points and 11 rebounds in last season's win vs. #4 Auburn.
  • Tyree Appleby reached the 1,000-point career scoring mark. The speedy point guard scored 899 points in two seasons at Cleveland State before coming to UF.

Noah Locke
On the overall performance
"Honestly, I just think that everybody came to play. I mean, we knew that this is a big game. Every game is a big game, but just coming out and everybody knowing that they had to step up, knowing that we had guys down. I feel like everybody just came ready to play. We were focused in shootaround, focused in the last two days preparing for them. I feel like we all came out ready."

On fixing mistakes from Mississippi State
"Yeah, yeah. We were blocking down much better we harped on that a lot after the game. You saw the stats, you saw that they outrebounded us a lot and, um, you know, that was something that we focused on. That was one of the biggest things during the game, so just being able to focus in on those things and we ended up with the victory."

On Omar Payne
"Really good, I mean really good. He played really well, just rebounding the ball. You can literally throw the ball anywhere and he's going to get it. He's athletic, he just played hard. He just stepped up when we needed him to."

Omar Payne
On his success tonight
"Just really just waiting for my opportunity to shine. Today, we had a couple guys out so I just had to go in and do what I usually do."

On finding their identity
"Yeah, we definitely showed that today. We just have to keep that train rolling, really. Just performed really great today."

On the defensive effort
"On the defensive side, really just we need an assist, I would run over. I knew exactly what it was so I have to try to play to my advantage. On the offensive glass, I just had to go get it. I'm capable of doing it, so I should do it every game."

On how many one-handed alley-oops he's had before
"A couple, but I need to start going two hands. The one-hander, it looks pretty, but it won't go in all the time."

Mike White
On the team's overall performance
"Our press was definitely a factor. To me, that's the most productive our pressure has been without fouling this year, so we are growing in that area. Offensively I thought we played with a lot of confidence. We've talked about this transition we are going through, I thought our guards were really good playing it in space. Our bigs were good with their pick-and-roll and really active on the offensive glass. We did a lot of things pretty well."

On Omar Payne
"Efficient 4-5, keeping the ball high, finishing on the interior, fanning it out when he needed to. He plays within himself offensively. With a lot of these guys, let's not show what we can't do, let's just play to our strengths, and I think Omar is a pretty good example of that. He's developing, he's growing as an offensive player, his left hand, his left hooks have gotten much better. His feel, his passing ability. He's got elite length of course, he's got a nose for the ball on the offensive glass. He's grown defensively with the blocked shots. He changes the game for us a little bit."

On the rotation tonight
"Yeah, you know as much as we struggled on the glass last game and on the interior defensively, and then with Colin (Castleton) out, we thought for a few reasons- we were a little bit more open to playing big tonight, and we did that."
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