Tennessee-Kentucky round three did not disappoint. It was a heavyweight slugfest that went the distance — ending with a furious comeback and a victory for the Volunteers.
Admiral Schofield was the driving force for Tennessee early on, pouring in 13 points in the first half on 5-8 shooting. Tennessee’s senior wing was perfect from the three point line – 3-3 to pace the Vols in the opening segment.
Hot shooting from Jordan Bone and Jordan Bowden helped Schofield’s efforts. Those two junior guards combined for a 4-5 effort from three point range in the first half. A quiet start from Grant Williams was hardly noticed, thanks to that sharpshooting.
Kentucky’s P.J. Washington was equally irrelevant in the first half, thanks to two quick fouls. For all the talk of the Washington-Williams matchup, this game was run through the guards early.
Tennessee carried a 36-34 lead into halftime following a big three from Reid Travis to end the half.
Kentucky came out and attacked the paint to start the second half, forcing Grant Williams to pick up his second foul and Kyle Alexander to pick up his third.
This one quickly turned into a back and forth affair, with Kentucky taking a slight advantage thanks to rebounding. Nick Richards put in some big minutes for the Wildcats in the middle stages. It was his offensive burst that gave Kentucky a small advantage with 12 minutes to play.
But Tennessee was up for the challenge. Grant Williams showed signs of life while answering Richards, getting active on the offensive boards and putting the Vols back in front at 52-51.
With 11:04 to play, Alexander picked up his fourth foul. Literally ten seconds later, Alexander was whistled for his fifth foul, ending his day. Barnes turned to Derrick Walker as his replacement.
That sequence rattled Tennessee — especially after a couple of heavy contact no-calls on Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield on the offensive end. Keldon Johnson, Ashton Hagans and P.J. Washington each took a turn taking it to the Tennessee defense, getting wide open looks at the rim.
Just like that, Kentucky held a 63-58 lead. Quite frankly, Grant Williams couldn’t buy a call. Tennessee kept feeding him though, just hoping to find a spark.
Out of nowhere, the referees began whistling everything. It got ticky-tack real quick for both teams — totally changing the pace and feel of this one. The game became a grind down the stretch as Tennessee tried to claw their way back from a seven point deficit.
Tennessee’s offense completely vanished in crunch time, though. Lamonte Turner and Admiral Schofield each missed good looks from deep that could have cut into the lead.
On the other end, Tennessee couldn’t stop Keldon Johnson, who kept attacking the paint and adding to Kentucky’s lead.
However, Grant Williams wasn’t done. Tennessee went back to the SEC player of the year time and time again down the stretch. He started delivering late.
Williams added an and-one, then a monster three pointer. Admiral Schofield added another. It was an 8-0 run for Tennessee with two minutes to play that gave the Vols the lead — somehow.
P.J. Washington got a bucket at the other end to reclaim the lead at 76-75.
With 29 seconds to go and down one point, Grant Williams passed back out to Admiral Schofield. Schofield found Lamonte Turner — who has been ice cold. Of course, Turner drilled it.
Tennessee grabbed the lead back at 78-76, then got a steal. Kentucky fouled Jordan Bone, who hit two free throws to give the Vols a four point lead. That put this one on ice.
Final Score: Tennessee 82, Kentucky 78
Tennessee will take on Bruce Pearl and Auburn tomorrow afternoon for the title.