After shooting 76 percent from the field and establishing a huge lead over Arkansas on Saturday, it was a near polar opposite start for Tennessee on Sunday. The Volunteers came out ice cold, leaving every shot shot. Kentucky on the other hand, didn’t miss.
Kevin Knox was locked in, along with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The two combined for 20 points in the first 12 minutes, building a 15 point lead. It was 27-12 at the 12 minute mark of the first half.
Tennessee’s offense was nowhere to be found. Admiral Schofield was forced to try and make something happen one on one, but didn’t find any success early. There wasn’t much movement offensively and there certainly wasn’t any rhythm.
Luckily for Tennessee, Schofield eventually started hitting from deep. A couple of deep three pointers and some key offensive rebounds gave the Vols plenty of life. In the blink of an eye, Tennessee had cut the lead to just five points.
All things considered, Rick Barnes likely gladly accepted a 36-31 Kentucky lead at the break.
Tennessee stayed aggressive and pulled even within the first three minutes of the second half. They took the lead on a three from Admiral, pulling ahead 41-38. Kentucky was stunned, but they were able to get back up off of the mat with a three point play from Gilgeous-Alexander.
A quick 14-2 run from Kentucky put the Wildcats back in control.
Tennessee had another answer in them though as Lamonte Turner hit a three off of a Wildcat turnover. Another Volunteer bucket slashed the lead back to four as the two teams traded runs.
Back to back three pointers from Jordan Bone and Turner earned the lead back for Tennessee at the under eight break at 57-55.
Schofield was forced to the locker room at that moment with an injury to his nose. Kentucky immediately took advantage, scoring two buckets down low to regain the lead.
The two teams traded tough buckets down low, exchanging the lead over the final few minutes. Schofield checked back in with four minutes to play.
A couple of bad mistakes from Tennessee tipped the scales back in Kentucky’s favor, however. The Wildcats turned two offensive rebounds into four points, bringing their lead back to 66-62.
Jordan Bowden missed a good look from three and Gilgeous-Alexander converted two free throws at the other end. Kentucky led by six, but key player Wenyen Gabriel fouled out with three minutes to play.
Jordan Bone banked in a three from the corner to cut the Kentucky lead to just one with 1:13 to play. Gilgeous-Alexander hit a mid-range jumper to get the lead back to three and Grant Williams missed at the other end.
Tennessee was forced to foul from there. Quade Green hit two free throws to give Kentucky a five point lead. Schofield kept the Vols alive with an offensive rebound and a put-back.
Gilgeous-Alexander got it back to a five point game while Turner missed a lay-up at the other end. That would seal it for Kentucky.
Tennessee dropped this one, extending their SEC Tournament drought. It’s a tough one to swallow, considering the effort and comeback that Tennessee manufactured. The minutes that Admiral Schofield missed are looming large right now.
The good news is that Tennessee should be locked into a three seed. Now we wait for the selection committee to confirm that.