Tennessee drops SEC Championship game to Kentucky

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 

No. 23 Tennessee wins third in a row at home against No. 17 Kentucky

No. 23 Tennessee (10-4, 1-2 SEC) took down No. 17 Kentucky (12-3, 2-1 SEC) by a score of 76-65 to register its first SEC win of the season. Junior Admiral Schofield and sophomore Grant Williams combined for 38 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists and six steals in the Vols upset win over the Wildcats.

Kentucky seemed to have Tennessee all, but spiraling after one half of play, as the Wildcats led 37-29 at halftime. The Wildcats shot a smooth 56 percent from the field and 50 percent from beyond-the-arc at half. Meanwhile, the Volunteers shot 33 percent from the field and committed eight turnovers.

A pair of Wenyen Gabriel 3-pointers put Kentucky on a 9-0 run with 7:51 remaining in the first half. However, Schofield knocked down a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to three with just over four minutes remaining in the first half. Still, the Wildcats were able to pull away, entering the half on a 9-4 run.

“Coach Lanier did a good job of, because he scouted the game, showing us 11 points that came off of not following our scouting report,” said Barnes about what changed after the first half.

“They’re going to make some baskets, just like we make baskets, but you don’t want them making the ones where we fail to execute our game plan.”

The game plan that Barnes and his staff used clearly worked, as they were able to flip the script in the second half. Tennessee outscored the Wildcats 47-28 in the second half, and shot a remarkable 55 percent from the field. The Vols were able to come out of the gates quick with a 6-0 run that closed the deficit.

A layup from Kentucky’s Nick Richards put the Wildcats up 47-44 on Tennessee, but what followed would be the turning point in the game. The Volunteers answered by logging nine straight points and going on a 16-3 run that put them up 10 points with just over eight minutes remaining. Late foul trouble for the Wildcats, as well as an injury to Kentucky’s star play played in favor for the Vols.

The Wildcats had five players that finished with over three fouls in the contest and two that fouled out. Gabriel, who had 11 points in the game, fouled out with 12 minutes remaining in the game. Starting Kentucky forward PJ Washington (13 points), who was clearly the best player on the floor, went down early in the second half.

“As soon as we had PJ out of the game, we had no shot at winning because every one of their players at that point was tougher than our guys,” said Wildcats head coach John Calipari. “When PJ went down, they saw the wounded animal and went right at it.”

The loss of Washington was just enough to let Tennessee hold on to the win. The Vols were able to make their free throws as Schofield slammed home a massive dunk with 23 seconds left to put a nail in the coffin for Kentucky. Tennessee out-rebounded the Wildcats 37-30, which is the most they have been out-rebounded by all season. Also, Tennessee recorded assists on 23 of its 25 baskets and had an assist rate of 92 percent on the night.

“We are Tennessee. Nobody respects us. We haven’t done anything, we haven’t won anything, and we haven’t been in the tournament in years,” Schofield said. “We have to just go out and compete every night, no matter if we are ranked or not because it’s just a number.”

Edited by Ben McKee

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics