ATLANTA — Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl didn’t agree with a no-call on what he thought was a foul. So he made sure the officials heard how he felt.
The referee responded by expressing his emotions — and giving Pearl a technical foul. It might have been what Pearl wanted but it seemed to have an opposite effect.
The Volunteers trailed No. 12 Florida by just two at the time, but the Gators scored the next five points and rode that momentum to an 85-74 victory in a quarterfinal of the Southeastern Conference Tournament on Friday at the Georgia Dome.
The SEC East’s top seed, Florida (25-6), moved on to a semifinal in which it will play Vanderbilt at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday. Tennessee heads home with a 19-14 record but most likely will be in the NCAA Tournament thanks to an RPI of 31 and a strength of schedule that ranks as the second best in the country.
Pearl was assessed the technical after a Tennessee turnover with 11:20 left. He thought his son, guard Steven Pearl, was hit on the hand. The elder Pearl actually sent Steven down the court to show the official where the foul occurred. It didn’t change the referee’s mind as Florida made three free throws on the next possession and Vernon Macklin put in a layup with less than 10 minutes left for a 57-50 lead.
The margin never dipped below five after that. Plus, the Gators used a 9-1 run to put the game away late. Kenny Boynton converted on a 3-point play and then hit a 3-pointer for a 75-62 lead with 4:27 remaining.
“It was a bad technical — a very bad technical,” Bruce Pearl said. “It really hurt our team. I felt that Steven Pearl had driven and I thought he got fouled, so I just said I thought he got fouled.”
Florida got off to a fast start, moving the ball around to get looks inside and out on the perimeter. This balance allowed the Gators to take a 25-13 lead 10 minutes in.
But Tennessee buckled down on defense, holding Florida scoreless the last 6:19 of the half. The Volunteers rode a 21-4 run into halftime. Freshman Tobias Harris scored 12 of his 16 first-half points during the spurt, including a 3-pointer from the right corner with 10.3 seconds remaining as Tennessee led 34-29 at halftime.
Florida stayed close in the second half and did not let Tennessee’s lead rise above six. The Gators used timely 3-pointers and penetration to regain the lead midway through the second half. Boynton hit three free throws with 13:35 for a 47-46 lead that put his team ahead to stay.
Florida went to the free-throw line 33 times in the second half and made 25. Tennessee got there 21 times in the second half and was 18-of-25 for the game. Tennessee committed 28 fouls compared to Florida’s 16.
Harris, a freshman, tied a career-high with 25 points. Scotty Hopson added 19 points and Brian Williams grabbed 12 rebounds. Boynton led five Florida double-digit scorers with 22 points. He was 10-of-10 from the free-throw line.
“Our defense was nonexistent and Florida shot the ball tremendously,” Hopson said. “We didn’t slide our feet. We sent them to the foul line, they stepped up and made their free throws and they played great down the stretch.”