LEXINGTON, Ky. — Tennessee grabbed a piece of history on Tuesday night, fighting off Kentucky to complete the first men’s basketball sweep over the Wildcats since 1999.
The No. 15-ranked Vols (18-5, 8-3 SEC) scored a 61-59 victory over No. 24 Kentucky before the crowd of 23,332 at Rupp Arena, following up on their 76-65 win in Knoxville on Jan. 6..
Lamonte Turner led Tennessee with 16 points, including a 3-pointer with 26 seconds left that gave the Vols a 59-58 lead over the Wildcats (17-7, 6-5).
Jordan Bowden followed Turner’s 3-pointer with a steal and threw an outlet pass to Admiral Schofield, leading to a dunk with 4.1 seconds left.
The basket gave Kentucky a chance for a final shot, but a Bowden foul sent Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to the line with 0.8 seconds left. Gilgeous-Alexander made the first, missed the second, and Schofield came down with the rebound.
Tennessee snapped what had been a 10-game losing streak in Lexington, out-rebounding Kentucky 32-30 and winning the points in the paint 30-28.
Neither team lead by more than three points until Grant Williams hit a pair of free throws with 4:54 left to give the Vols a 50-46 lead.
Tennessee held a 27-26 edge at the end of a closely contested, foul-plagued first half in which neither team led by more than 3 points.
The Wildcats were 18-of-25 shooting from the free-throw line, while the Vols were 12-of-14
Kentucky opened the game 1-of-9 shooting with five turnovers through the first nine minutes of the game, yet trailed only 9-8 on account of the Vols’ offensive struggles.
The Wildcats, like most other teams, double-teamed Williams early and often, as he started just 1-of-3 from the floor but 4-of-6 from the free-throw line.
Perhaps the biggest contributor to Tennessee’s slow start was 6-foot-10 post Kyle Alexander picking up his second foul and leaving the game at the 12:25 mark.
Alexander entered the game leading the Vols in plus-minus, with Tennessee outscoring opponents by 16.55 points every 40 minutes he was on the floor.
Bowden came to life in the second half for the Vols, scoring 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the floor and 4-of-4 from the free-throw line. Bowden’s late steal helped Tennessee deny Kentucky a good look at the basket in the final 30 seconds.
Tennessee entered the game leading the SEC in assists per game (16.8) and assist/turnover ratio (1.5). Kentucky’s length and athleticism appeared to trouble the Vols, however, and Tennessee had only 10 assists and 13 turnovers. Coach Rick Barnes indicated in the first meeting between the teams both played more zone on account of foul troubles.
Turner came off the bench in the first half to provide some much-needed scoring punch, scoring 11 of his points in the first 20 minutes on 4-of-6 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three. The rest of the Vols were a combined 6-of-20 shooting, 0-for-7 from three, for 16 points.