No. 13-ranked and second-seeded Tennessee fell to No. 4 seed Kentucky in their first SEC Championship appearance since 2009 by a score of 77–72. Forwards Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield combined for 37 points and 19 rebounds in the loss at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Head coach John Calipari and the Wildcats notched their fourth straight conference on Sunday.
It was all Kentucky to start the game, as the Wildcats couldn’t miss and went on a 13–5 run to start the first half. Tennessee started out shooting just 4-of-20 from the field, while Kentucky began with 50 percent shooting from the field. Freshman phenoms Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Kevin Knox combined for 24 points to start the game.
“We started the game and dug ourselves a hole,” said Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes. “We weren’t playing the way we were capable of. Offensively, we weren’t making shots.”
However, Schofield put the Volunteers on his back with a whopping 17 first half points. The Vols rode a 15–3 run to end the first half to cut the game down to just a five-point deficit at halftime.
The rest of the team combined for just 14 points, as Tennessee went into the half trailing just 36–31 after 20 minutes of play. The Volunteers came back despite shooting just 28 percent from the field and making just 4-of-13 shots from beyond-the-arc.
Barnes and Tennessee came out of the half with a new lease on life, as Tennessee finally took over the lead at the 16:39 mark with a 3-pointer from Schofield. The Wildcats responded with a 14–2 run to set the Vols back once again by a score of 52–43 with over 12 minutes to play.
The Volunteers responded clutch 3-pointer from SEC Co-Sixth Man of the Year Lamonte Turner and a jumper from Williams cut Kentucky’s lead down to just five points once again. A 14–3 run from Tennessee once again gave them a lead, after Turner drilled consecutive 3-pointers to give the Vols a 57–55 lead.
A huge blow was dealt to the orange-and-white after Wenyen Gabriel of the Wildcats landed on Schofield’s head, causing him to go back to the locker room. Still, The Volunteers kept it knotted up at 59–59 with six minutes remaining in the game despite Schofield’s absence. Shortly after, both teams entered the bonus with over five minutes left in the second half.
Schofield re-entered the game at the 4:20 mark, as Tennessee faced a 66–62 deficit with less than four minutes left in the game. Kentucky was dealt a huge blow themselves with 2:45 remaining, as the sharpshooting Gabriel fouled out.
Guard Jordan Bone banked in a ridiculous shot from beyond-the-arc to cut the Wildcats lead to just 68–67 with just over a minute remaining in the game. Gilgeous-Alexander responded with a clutch jumper to put Kentucky up three points and forcing the Vols to send the Wildcats to the free throw line.
Schofield tipped in a shot to bring Tennessee within three points once again, but it wasn’t enough as the Vols lost for the first time in six games.
“It’s hard to flush that, but we’ve got something big to look forward to,” said Schofield. “We wanted to go out and win this for our University, coaching staff, families and fans.”
The Volunteers will get back in action on Thursday as a №3 seed in the South Region in the NCAA Tournament. Tennessee will take on №14 seed Wright State.
Edited by Ben McKee
Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics