GAINESVILLE -- Billy Donovan swears win No. 500 wasn’t on his mind.
He’s not even sure when Florida's next victory will even come.
But in a forgettable and frustrating season, Donovan finally reached the elusive milestone, as UF smashed Tennessee 66-49 Saturday night in the O’Connell Center.
In a special night worth remembering, the man who turned Florida into a national powerhouse became the second-youngest men’s D-1 coach to win 500 games.
“I’ve been part of at least a lot of unbelievable experiences in that building. Tonight was very, very meaningful,” Donovan, 49, said.
It’s been a tough season for the Gators, but in the rout’s closing seconds the Rowdy Reptiles chanted “Billy D. Billy D. Billy D,” and Florida celebrated Donovan’s achievement with a postgame video montage.
“I thought there was a great crowd tonight, and obviously our team has struggled this year," he said.
"For the amount of people to come out like they did to watch our team play, I was very, very appreciative and very thankful for that. I thought we had a great environment, a great crowd. Then to be kind of honored like that at the end of the game was extremely touching, and I was very, very thankful for that."
The Gators snapped a two-game skid, as Dorian Finney-Smith returned from a three-game suspension to lead all players with 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The redshirt junior didn’t start, but recorded his second double-double on the season and his most points since Jan. 7 against South Carolina.
“I just wanted to come out here and play with a lot of energy,” Finney-Smith said.
“I owed it to these guys to come and have a good game.”
Florida (14-15, 7-9 SEC) led wire-to-wire, shooting a blistering 57.1 percent from the field.
The Vols’ matchup-zone defense was a sieve, yielding a barrage of dunks and 3-pointers for the Gators’ best offensive performance in over 10 weeks.
UF point guard Kasey Hill rebounded from a miserable effort in Wednesday’s loss at Missouri, slicing Tennessee’s zone for eight dimes and seven points. Gators center Jon Horford chipped in 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
“We were balanced,” Donovan said.
“We just weren’t just all 3-point bomb shots, we had some layups, we did some good things. … Overall offensively the thing I was most pleased about was the 21 assists.”
The Gators opened the game on a 15-5 run and never looked back. Tennessee (14-14, 6-10 SEC) trailed 40-22 at halftime, as UF’s red-hot start led to seven treys, seven dunks and an astounding 14 assists on 15 field goals.
The second half became mainly a perfunctory exercise, as UF’s lead ballooned to 23 points and UT never cut the deficit to single digits.
Florida’s defensive effort was nearly as impressive, suffocating UT’s halfcourt attack. The Vols’ leading scorer Josh Richardson (15.9 ppg) never found a rhythm, scoring just nine points -- none in the first half.
The Gators forced 14 turnovers and finished with a 27-19 advantage on the glass.
Junior forward Armani Moore led Tennessee with 18 points, scoring the team’s first eight points to start the game.
UF hosts Texas A&M at 9 p.m. Tuesday.
Gators junior guard Eli Carter joined the 1,000-point club with 11, including a trio of first-half 3-pointers. Carter, who missed practice this week with strep throat, also added six assists. … The Vols lost their fifth straight game and seven of eight. … The Gators’ balanced effort led to a 33-18 advantage in bench points.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton