With just under five minutes to go in the first half against Kentucky on Saturday, Tennessee forward Grant Williams fought off a double team underneath the basket.
He jumped and tossed a pass to a waiting Jordan Bone, who immediately fired to Admiral Schofield in the corner.
Schofield wasted no time, powering along the baseline for a slam. The dunk sent a sold-out crowd of 21,729 into hysterics, and a similarly ferocious two-handed jam from Jordan Bowden just two minutes later shook Thompson-Boling Arena to its core.
It was that kind of day for No. 7 Tennessee, as Bone notched a career-high 27 points, Williams rolled up 24 and the Vols downed No. 4 Kentucky 71-52 in front of a crowd that Tennessee coach Rick Barnes called “electric.”
“I just want to say the crowd was tremendous today,” Barnes said. “I really appreciate that from our crowd.”
Bone echoed his coach’s comments.
“It’s very high,” he said of the energy level. “We feed off the energy that Vol Nation gives us. We understand that we have to protect home court.”
“We went into this game understanding it was going to be intensity over emotion,” Bone continued.“We were never rattled. I feel like last game at Rupp, we got a little rattled and we got away from our game plan. I think that was the biggest thing was our intensity and everybody doing their job at a high level.”
The win puts Tennessee at 4-0 at home over the Wildcats through Barnes’s tenure, and it avenges a similarly lopsided loss for the Vols in Lexington just two weeks ago.
It also gives Tennessee more control heading into postseason play, as NCAA Tournament officials will likely be forced to take a harder look at the Vols when determining seeding for the nation’s top teams.
An early 3-pointer from Bone put the Vols on the board, and he pin-balled through the lane for two more layups for seven of Tennessee’s first nine points on the day.
The Vols’ point guard finished 11-for-15 from the field, and his 5-for-5 outing from long range provided a consistent amount of momentum for Tennessee.
“Early in December, I thought he got more and more confident and started to understand more and more what a point guard had to do,” Barnes said of Bone. “You can just tell that he did some things on his own today when he called some things and a real feel for their teammates. He did a good job from our stand point on just orchestrating the game.”
Later, a Jordan Bowden 3-pointer forced Kentucky into a timeout as the Vols took a 23-18 lead. Then came Schofield’s slam, and a 3-pointer from Williams on the next possession put Tennessee up by 10.
“I thought we had to get him moving more. Let him roll into the post,” Barnes said of the power forward.
A technical on Kentucky head coach John Calipari late in the first half only ignited the arena more, and another trey from Bone put the Vols up 37-24 at halftime.
After the break, Tennessee took off on a 10-3 run capped off by a steal and bucket from Lamonte Turner. That put the Vols up by 20, a lead that Kentucky was only able to whittle to 13 through the second half.
Another 3-pointer from Bone finished off the scoring for Tennessee on Saturday, but the Vols weren’t quite done yet.
With time ticking down, Bone grabbed a steal before firing to a streaking Admiral Schofield. Schofield slammed the ball home well after the buzzer sounded, but the effect lingered as he skipped up the floor amidst a roaring crowd, pausing only to let out a war cry before slapping five with a fan.
Bowden called the moment “ice cream on the cake” for a day in which Tennessee fired on all cylinders.
In total, the Vols connected on 27-of-62 shots from field-goal range, while an 8-for-22 effort from deep boosted Tennessee.
The Vols stifled the Wildcats defensively, limiting Kentucky to just 32 percent of its shots from inside the arc. Kentucky also made just 26 percent of its 3-pointers, and PJ Washington led the Cats with 13 points.
In the season’s first matchup, Washington led the Wildcats with 23 points, a stark difference from Saturday’s game.
“Defensively, obviously PJ Washington is a terrific player and I felt like we worked hard to limit space on him,” Barnes said.
Washington drew two fouls early in the matchup, and Kentucky coach John Calipari was quick to note the impact from his absence once Washington headed to the bench.
“As soon as I saw how it started and when PJ got his second foul, I was like ‘okay, how do I make this close,’” Calipari said.
Along with limited minutes for Washington, the Wildcats took the floor Saturday without Reid Travis, whose injury kept him from replicating an 11-point, eight-rebound performance against Tennessee on Feb. 16.
After the matchup in Knoxville, Calipari was asked about Travis’s absence.
He cut into the question, saying that Tennessee would’ve beaten the Wildcats with or without the forward.
“It wasn’t that, they beat us,” Calipari said. “There are no excuses. We got beat every which way.”
Now, Tennessee must look toward its home finale against Mississippi State on Tuesday before moving on to postseason play, where the Vols will most likely face the Wildcats once more, this time on a neutral floor.
Should that game take place, Grant Williams is more than ready.
“It would be fun if there was a rematch,” he said. “You expect to play guys like that in Nashville and in the tournament. You never know when we’ll see them again. I feel like we will, and again, it’ll be another crazy environment.”
First, though, the Vols must finish out the season against the Bulldogs. Tip against Mississippi State is slated for 9 p.m. Tuesday, and the game can be viewed on the SEC Network.
Featured image courtesy of Jake Nichols.
Edited by Christian Knox
Sports editor Jake Nichols has been part of the TNJN staff in two different capacities. His freshman and sophomore years, Jake worked as a staff writer before moving on to write for Rocky Top Insider, and he also worked with VFL Films and the SEC Network for a semester his junior year. When asked the summer before his senior year to return to TNJN as the sports editor, Jake jumped at the chance to end his time in Knoxville working with the organization he first began with as a freshman. Jake is excited to help lead younger writers, much like former editors Cody McClure and Jordan Dajani aided him. Jake also does freelance sports coverage and photography for The Mountain Press in Sevierville, Tenn., and in his spare time, he can be found with family, his girlfriend or driving his Jeep, most likely with his Canon in tow. Be sure and follow Jake on Twitter and Instagram at @jnichols_2121, and keep up with TNJN Sports on Twitter as well!