You might want to tell your children about this one, because history was made in Lexington, KY on Tuesday night. And for the first time in a while, it was some good history for the Vols.
No. 15 Tennessee traveled up to Rupp Arena on Tuesday night riding a five-game winning streak as they prepared to take on No. 24 Kentucky. The Vols hadn’t won in Lexington since 2006, but they had defeated the Wildcats in Knoxville earlier this season 76-65.
And this time, the Vols were able to pull off what they had failed to do so many times before.
Here are our five biggest takeaways from the Vols’ dramatic 61-59 victory over Kentucky in Lexington.
Clutch Offense and Defense
Down the stretch, Tennessee’s defense came up big. But the Vols’ defense had been playing well all game. The offense, however, had been inconsistent at best for most of the game.
But Tennessee’s offense came alive when it mattered most.
Kyle Alexander stole the ball away from the Wildcats with less than a minute to go, and Lamonte Turner pulled up for the go-ahead three and nailed it with 26 seconds to go. Then the Vols forced another turnover when Bowden got the steal, and he chucked the ball down the court for Admiral Schofield to slam it home and give the Vols a three-point lead.
Tennessee would foul Kentucky with 1.3 seconds to go to prevent a three from being taken, and the Wildcats would hit the first free throw and miss the second on purpose.
But the Vols were there to corral the rebound, and Tennessee escaped victorious.
Back and Forth We Go
Neither team ever had full control of this game. Tennessee’s biggest lead was four points, and Kentucky’s biggest lead was three. There were 13 ties and 17 lead changes in the game, and the lead exchanged hands for the final time with 26 seconds left on the clock.
The Vols never let Kentucky’s length and defense rattle them too much, and Tennessee’s defense was able to keep them in it even when their offense went stagnant. And that resulted in one of the most back-and-forth games the Vols have played.
No Grant? No Problem
Grant Williams was once again in foul trouble and only played 28 minutes in this game. But the Vols were able to find a way to win without their best player on the court for long stretches of time.
Williams finished with 10 points, three rebounds, and two assists. He only took three shots, and eight of his 10 points came from the free throw line.
But Tennessee had plenty of players to help pick up the slack.
Lamonte Turner led the way with 16 points, and Jordan Bowden added 13 points and eight rebounds. Admiral Schofield had 12 points and six rebounds as well. Jordan Bone didn’t have his best night as a Vol, but he did lead the team with four assists.
The Vols have proved time and again how deep they are. And that was shown again on Tuesday night.
Padding that Resume
Tennessee’s win over Kentucky gives them four wins over teams ranked inside the top 25 in the RPI. And they now have a winning record (4-3) against top 25 RPI teams.
The Vols aren’t scheduled to play another team inside the top 25 of the RPI for the remainder of the regular season, so this was their last chance for a big win to add to their NCAA Tournament resume until possibly the SEC Tournament. And Tennessee was able to get it done on Tuesday night.
Streaks are Over
The Vols killed two streaks with one dunk on Tuesday night.
Now only was Tennessee’s 61-59 win in Rupp their first victory in Lexington since 2006, but it also marked the first time since 1999 that the Vols swept Kentucky in one season.
Tennessee’s last win in Rupp before Tuesday night came in Bruce Pearl’s first season as head coach. The No. 11 Vols handed the unranked Wildcats a 75-67 loss on February 7th. The last time the Vols swept Kentucky was when they won back-to-back games as an unranked team against ranked Kentucky squads in January and February of 1999. Jerry Green was Tennessee’s coach at that time.