He even called for — and delivered — one of his more precise passes of this basketball season in crunch time.
Williams scored 20 points and found Admiral Schofield for a clinching 3-pointer in the corner with 41.3 seconds remaining to help No. 3 Tennessee beat Florida 78-67 on Saturday for the team’s 10th consecutive victory.
“We knew we were going to get Grant the ball at the elbow and we knew they would collapse probably,” Volunteers coach Rick Barnes said. “He told those guys, ‘You get where you’re supposed to be and I’ll make the right pass.‘ He found Admiral, and that was big shot obviously.”
It was the biggest shot, although it came after Williams appeared to get away with a travel in the lane.
Jalen Hudson misfired on the other end, and the Gators (9-6, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) committed two turnovers in the waning seconds to turn a one-possession game into a lopsided final score.
“One of those games where every possession was a critical one,” Barnes said.
Jordan Bowden added 17 off the bench for Tennessee (14-1, 3-0), which last enjoyed a double-digit winning streak in 2008. Bowden accounted for 14 consecutive points late in the second half with Schofield on the bench with four fouls. Bowden made five free throws, two driving layups and a 3-pointer. He also dished to John Fulkerson for another layup.
Equally huge for the Vols were two second-half baskets that each came after two offensive rebounds. Williams scored on both.
“Those were some big opportunities for us,” Barnes said.
Williams made 8 of 11 shots to go with his nine rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals.
“If we played man-to-man for 40 minutes, Grant Williams might have had 60,” Florida coach Mike White said. “And we might have all fouled out, including me.”
KeVaughn Allen had 18 points for the Gators. Noah Locke added 16.
Florida led 38-35 at the half thanks to nine 3-pointers. But Tennessee did a much better job guarding the 3-point line and closing out on shooters after the break, allowing just 3-of-10 shooting after halftime.
Still, the Gators had chances to pull off an upset. They missed two treys in the final 1:14, including one wide-open look off a turnover.
“We’ve got some areas where we’re just average or below average,” White said. “If we don’t get more disciplined, more mentally tough, pay closer attention relative to scouting, this is going to happen much more.”
Tennessee players mockingly performed the “Gator chomp” to fans after the final buzzer.
“I’m not one for it. I thought it was kind of low, but whatever,” Florida’s Kevarrius Hayes said. “I just think people got to have more pride and understand that we are Florida and everybody wants to beat Florida. We can’t go easy.”
Tennessee: The Vols have won five straight true road games, a clear sign of their talent and depth.
Florida: The Gators went toe to toe with a top-five team but just don’t have the firepower to score 80 to beat many elite teams.
Florida football coach Dan Mullen addressed the sellout crowd before the game, crediting his team for a 10-win season that included a win against Michigan in the Peach Bowl.
“The Gator standard is to not be in second in the SEC, the Gator standard is about being first in the SEC,” Mullen said. “The challenge for all of us, the challenge for the players, for coaches and everybody in Gator Nation, what we did last year was good enough for 10 wins and No. 6.
“This year we’re going to ask you for a whole ‘nother level. I challenge you to bring back that Gator standard not to be No. 2, but to be at a championship level.”
Tennessee begins a two-game homestand against Arkansas on Tuesday night.
Florida plays at No. 14 Mississippi State on Wednesday night.