Tennessee needed a big bucket, so they turned to Lamonte Turner.
The Vols’ redshirt junior guard pulled up from behind the three-point arc with 30 seconds to go and let his shot fly. The ball found the bottom of the net, and Tennessee went ahead 78-76 over Kentucky with 29 seconds to go.
That basket proved to be the go-ahead bucket, and the Vols emerged victorious in Round III of the Tennessee-Kentucky heavyweight fight this season.
No. 3 seed Tennessee (29-4, 15-3 SEC) defeated No. 2 seed Kentucky (27-6, 15-3 SEC) by a score of 82-78 in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament on Saturday afternoon. The two teams battled back and forth for most of the game, and neither team ever held a double-digit lead.
After both teams got blowout victories on their home courts in the regular season, the third match-up on a neutral court proved to be the most exciting of the trio of games.
The first half was about as back-and-forth as it could’ve been. There were five ties and seven lead changes in the first half, and neither team led by more than five points. Kentucky led for most of the first 10 minutes, but the Vols held the lead for the final six.
Kentucky forward P.J. Washington only played six minutes in the first half after picking up a flagrant for his second foul. Tennessee’s Derrick Walker also was called for a flagrant on that same play. Grant Williams didn’t really take advantage of Washington’s absence, as Reid Travis did a good job bottling him up. He only had three points and two rebounds on 1-of-4 shooting in the first half of play. Despite that, Tennessee held a 36-34 lead at the half.
It was more of the same in the second half, at least until Kyle Alexander fouled out of the game.
Alexander was called for his fourth and fifth foul within a span of a few seconds, and that came with 10:55 left in the game. After Reid Travis made both his free throws after Alexander’s fifth foul, the Vols had just a 54-53 lead.
From that point on, Kentucky asserted their will.
The Wildcats outscored the Vols 19-10 over the next eight minutes and held a 72-64 lead with 2:58 to go in the game. Kentucky looked like they were on their way to a victory.
Then, Reid Travis fouled out for the Wildcats. That proved to be a turning point for the Vols.
Tennessee attacked the paint and turned to Grant Williams to help them inch their way back into the game. The Vols were down five with a little over two minutes to go, and they were within striking distance.
Admiral Schofield nailed a three with 1:59 to go to pull Tennessee within two points, 74-72. Grant Williams did the same on the Vols’ next possession to give UT a 75-74 lead. P.J. Washington would respond with a bucket in the lane to give UK a 76-75 lead moments later.
That’s when Turner hit his three.
Turner’s triple gave the Vols a 78-76 lead, and Kentucky couldn’t score on their ensuing possession. Jordan Bone ended up with the ball in his hands, and he would make all four of his free throw attempts over the final 10.9 seconds of the game to help the Vols snatch an unlikely victory.
With the win, the Vols ended a four-game losing streak to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, earning their first victory over the Wildcats since they defeated UK in the finals of the 1979 tournament. That’s also the last time the Vols have ever won the SEC Tournament.
Here are our five biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s big four-point victory over Kentucky in the SEC Tournament semifinals.
Tennessee made seven of their nine three-pointers in the first half, and they were on fire from distance. Then, they went stone cold in the second half.
The Vols missed their first eight threes in the final half of play, and UT was even missing wide open looks from distance. Admiral Schofield missed a late corner three when he didn’t have a defender near him, and Lamonte Turner had missed all three of his three-pointers in the game up to that point.
Then, Tennessee suddenly found their shooting touch again.
Admiral Schofield hit UT’s first three of the second half with 1:59 to go in the game to pull the Vols within two points of the Wildcats. Grant Williams drained a three on Tennessee’s next possession, and Schofield missed a three the next time UT had the ball, but Williams grabbed the miss and called a timeout near the baseline. Then Lamonte Turner hit the go-ahead three with 29.0 seconds left in the game.
The Vols closed the game going 3-of-4 from three after going 0-for-8 from distance for the first 18 minutes of the second half. Tennessee needed all three of those triples in order to win.
Schofield finished 4-of-8 from three, and Jordan Bowden was 2-of-3 from distance. Turner’s only make from three was that go-ahead shot, and he was 1-of-4 from three.
As a team, the Vols were 10-of-21 from three. Kentucky only attempted 11 three-pointers, and they made five of those shots.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
The Vols’ dynamic duo of Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield were electric on Saturday afternoon.
Williams scored 17 points in the second half and was 8-of-9 from the free throw line in the final half of play. Schofield had 13 points in the first half and was 5-of-8 from the floor, including a perfect 3-of-3 from distance.
As a whole, Williams and Schofield combined to score 41 points and pulled down a combined 10 rebounds. The two also combined to dish out six assists.
Williams, the two-time SEC Player of the Year, finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, an assist, a block, and a steal in 31 minutes. Schofield had a game-high 21 points and added three rebounds, five assists, and a steal in 35 minutes.
Completely Different Officiating
The first half was somewhat lightly officiated, and the refs were letting the two teams play physically and without much interference.
But the second half was a completely different story.
Tennessee and Kentucky were whistled for 10 total fouls in the first half, but the second half saw the two teams get called for 28 total fouls. The officials were calling several off-ball fouls, and both teams’ benches were angry with the way the game was being called.
One of Kentucky’s assistant coaches got called for a technical in the second half, and Rick Barnes got close to getting called for one himself. There was a total of 36 free throws attempted by the two teams in the second half after the two squads went to the charity stripe just eight combined times in the first half.
The Vols were 20-of-25 from the free throw line while Kentucky was 13-of-19.
Kyle Alexander fouled out of the game for the Vols with 10:55 to go, and Reid Travis picked up his fifth foul for Kentucky with 2:32 to go in the game. Both of those moments proved to be big momentum shifters.
Jordan Bone has developed into a stone-cold killer against Kentucky.
The Vols’ Second-Team All-SEC point guard was one of the only bright spots in UT’s loss to Kentucky in Lexington, and he set a new career-high in points scored in the Vols’ win over the Wildcats in Knoxville. On Saturday, he once again proved to be difficult to stop for UK.
Bone finished Saturday’s semifinal game with 18 points and five assists with only one turnover in 36 minutes. He was 4-of-8 from the field and made two of his four three-pointers. He was a perfect 8-of-8 from the free throw line and made four clutch free throws with under 11 seconds to go to help seal the deal for UT.
In his three games against Kentucky this season, Bone has averaged 21.3 points and 4.7 assists while only turning the ball over four times. He’s made 10 of his 13 threes against the Wildcats this season.
On to the Finals
For the first time since the SEC Tournament returned in 1979, Tennessee will be playing in the SEC Tournament Finals in back-to-back seasons.
With the win over Kentucky, the Vols advance to the SEC Tournament Finals for the second-straight year. Tennessee also made it to the finals last year, and they lost to the Wildcats by a score of 77-72. Tennessee hasn’t played in the finals in back-to-back seasons since 1936 and 1937. The Vols defeated Alabama 41-25 in the finals of the 1936 tournament and then lost 39-25 to Kentucky in the finals in 1937.
Since the tournament resumed in 1979 after a 26-year hiatus from 1952-78, the Vols have never appeared in back-to-back finals. In fact, Sunday will mark only the fifth time the Vols have made it to the SEC Tournament Finals in the last 40 years.
The Vols will tip-off against No. 5 Auburn on Sunday at 1:00 PM Eastern/Noon Central.