It took a 15-point comeback, but the Vols were able to knock off the Tide for the second time in the past year. John Fulkerson led the way with 22 points and Jordan Bowden chipped in 20 points of his own, but it was the charity stripe that made the difference for Tennessee. The Vols shot an incredible 23-of-32 from the foul line, which was obviously key in the win.
Javian Davis was able to get the Tide on the board first with a quick layup, but Santiago Vescovi answered right back to put the Vols up, 3-2. It didn’t take long for Alabama to re-take the lead, however, as a crucial Fulkerson turnover led to Kira Lewis Jr.’s first bucket of the game to put the Tide back in front, 4-3.
The Vols kept it within a bucket and a Drew Pember layup tied the game up at 7-7, but Alabama took advantage of a missed Jordan Bowden 3 and Lewis Jr. took advantage with a layup in transition to put Bama back in front, 9-7, with a little over 15:00 left in the first half.
Yves Pons took advantage of an and-1 situation to tie the game up at 10, but Forbes quickly drained a 3 from the left corner to put the Tide back up by three. It was the first basket of a few that would ignite a 10-0 run that eventually grew Alabama’s lead to 20-10 with 10:00 left in the first half.
The misery continued for the Vols as the Tide’s lead grew throughout the first half. Tennessee was eventually able finish the half on a 8-1 run and whittled Alabama’s lead down to 40-32 at halftime, but as the score showed, there was much left to be desired.
The Vols were 11-of-32 from the field compared to Bama’s 15-of-29 that included a 7-of-16 mark from downtown. Outside of the overall shooting percentage, Tennessee was playing a pretty close game. If it could get some shots to fall in the second half, then anything was possible.
Tennessee’s 8-1 run became a 12-1 run as the Vols opened the second half with four consecutive points to make it a 40-36 game, but Lewis Jr. quickly sunk his first 3 of the game to quell expectations with a little over 18:00 left in the game.
The Vols were able to keep the score within single digits for most of the first half of the second half. A key moment came as Bowden made a layup down 48-40, but was also fouled on his way to the basket. He made the subsequent free throw to bring the Vols within five points, 48-43 with a little under 13:00 left in the game.
Bama made a bucket a few plays later, but John Petty Jr. was hit with a technical foul soon afterward which allowed Vescovi to hit 1-of-2 free throws to make it a 50-44 game. Pons then hit the jumper on the subsequent possession to make it a four-point game with a little over 10:00 to go.
The turnovers were starting to pile up for the Crimson Tide and it was working to Tennessee’s advantage. A Bowden jumper made it a 50-48 game and all of a sudden, Bama looked nervous.
Fulkerson tied it up at 50 with 9:55 left to play, but Lewis Jr. converted a second chance bucket for 3 to put Bama back up, 53-50. The Vols continued to fight, and what was once a 15-point Bama lead was now a 53-52 lead with just over 9:30 left in the game.
Rick Barnes’ squad was finally starting to control the pace of the game and that became quite evident as Bowden was fouled under the basket. He would go on to make both free throws and give the Vols a 54-53 lead. It was Tennessee’s first lead since the 3-2 margin at the beginning of the game.
The lead didn’t last long, however, as Petty Jr. made a layup over Pons to take the lead back for the Tide. Bowden made a quick layup to put Tennessee back up soon after, but Shackleford responded on the next possession to put Bama back up, 57-56.
A very questionable foul was called on Petty Jr. as Pons drove to the basket for the go-ahead layup. Petty Jr. had to restrain his emotion due to the fact that he was hit with a technical foul earlier in the game, but it was clear he was upset with the call.
It was inconsequential, however, as Pons missed both free throws and Lewis Jr. laid it in off the glass to put the Tide up, 59-56 with 5:29 to go.
Tennessee continued to fight and wouldn’t give up. The hard work kept the game within a point and eventually led toward Bowden tying up the game, 61-61, with just over 4:00 left in the game. Bama’s 20th turnover gave a Fulkerson dunk the opportunity to put the Vols up 62-60 a few plays later.
With just 3:18 left in the game and the Vols leading 63-61, it was clear that the Tide had to play clean, disciplined basketball if they wanted to win the game. But the Vols’ defense was forcing mistakes and the offense was knocking down shots.
At this point, it was anyone’s game.
Bowden and Galin Smith both made layups to keep pace, but the Vols were able to nab two crucial offensive rebounds on the next possession to give them a chance at increasing the lead. The second one was key since Vescovi was fouled as he recovered possession. He sunk both free throws to give Tennessee a 67-63 lead with under 2:00 left in the game.
Poor offensive execution from the Vols allowed Bama to close the gap from 67-63 to 67-65 after Pons fell asleep and let Petty Jr. in for the easy dunk from the baseline.
Bowden had a chance to seal the deal, but he couldn’t make the layup and Bama was able to grab the rebound. Nate Oats refused to use his timeout with :14 seconds left and the Tide couldn’t make the layup thanks to Pons, who was able to prevent the shot from going in.
To make things even better for the Vols, Pons came down with the ball and was immediately fouled to give the Vols a chance to increase their lead to 69-65 with :4.6 left in the game.
Pons did just that. He made both free throws, leaving Oats and co. in a bind with basically no time left. Perry Jr. sunk the 3 from the top of the key, but the buzzer went off as the ball glided through the net, ending the game and giving the Vols the 69-68 win.
Tennessee will host the No. 15 Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, February 8. Tipoff is currently scheduled for 1PM EST.