It was right there for the Vols. Even after an abysmal start in the first half, the Vols took the lead a couple different times in the second half.
But Kentucky’s talent was just too much. And an injury that made Admiral Schofield miss an extended period of time in the second half proved to be the difference.
Tennessee trailed for the vast majority of the game, and when they held the lead it wasn’t for very long. But the Vols battled, fought, and clawed their way back multiple times against the Wildcats.
In the end, Kentucky was just better. And they pulled out a 77-72 victory over the Vols in the SEC Tournament Finals.
Here are our three biggest takeaways from the gut-wrenching loss to Kentucky.
On Saturday, the Vols were blazing hot in the first half against Arkansas. They shot over 75 percent from the floor overall and scored 48 points against the Razorbacks.
On Sunday, it was a totally different story.
Tennessee closed the second half strong and went on a 15-3 run to cut the lead to just 36-31 at halftime. But before that, it was all Kentucky. The Wildcats led by as much as 17 points when it was 33-16 with four and a half minutes to go in the first half. The Big Blue were dominating in almost every facet of the game.
Even with the good finish to the opening half, the Vols shot just 28.1 percent in the first half and were 4-of-13 from three.
Admiral Schofield went on a tear at the end of the half, scoring 13 straight points for the Vols to close out the first half. He finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds, but he missed an important stretch of minutes in the second half with an injury to his nose/face.
Vols Fight Back
When the Vols were down 33-16, it looked like the game might be on its way to a blowout. But then Tennessee found another gear.
The Vols went on a 15-3 run to end the first half, and they opened up the second half on a 10-2 run to make it an extended 25-5 run to take a 41-38 lead. But that lead wouldn’t last long.
Tennessee again fell down by a lot in the second half, trailing by nine with over 12 and a half minutes to go. But once again, the Vols fought back and took a 62-61 lead with just under five minutes to play.
But that would be the last time Tennessee led. They would get it down to 68-67 with 1:26 to go, but that was as close as they could get it down the stretch.
In the End, History Wins
I wrote on Sunday morning about how Sunday’s Finals match-up was more than just a game against Kentucky; it was a game against history. And on Sunday, history won again.
The Vols’ SEC Tournament drought continues. They still haven’t won the tournament title since 1979, and they missed a shot at beating Kentucky for three consecutive times in the same season for the first time in just as long.
Tennessee made it back to the SEC Tournament Finals for the first time since 2009. But just like in that game, the Vols came up a little short.
No matter. This team still has the potential to make a deep NCAA Tournament run, and this could serve as just a speed bump on the Vols’ way to a great story.