Tennessee battled back from a 15-point deficit late in the first half on Tuesday night in Tuscaloosa to beat Alabama 69-68 in a thrilling finish.
The Crimson Tide (12-10, 4-5 SEC) led for nearly 33 minutes and held a 40-32 lead at the half. Alabama was up by as much as 15 points with 1:49 to go in the opening half of play. Tennessee (13-9, 5-4 SEC) out-scored Alabama 37-28 over the final 20 minutes of the game to snap a three-game losing streak.
Yves Pons put the team on his back during the final minute of the game, coming up with a huge block to preserve a 67-65 lead. Pons then knocked down two clutch free throws on the other end after being fouled to put the game away. The second free throw to put Tennessee up four proved pivotal as it didn’t allow an Alabama three at the buzzer to tie the game.
Here are our three biggest takeaways from the Vols’ road win over the Crimson Tide.
The Comeback Kids
Coleman Coliseum has not been kind to Tennessee over the years. It didn’t look like it was going to be kind once again on Tuesday.
The Vols led 3-2 early, but after starting 2-for-10 from the field, they allowed Alabama to capture and maintain a lead. Alabama took the lead with 18:02 left in the first half on a Kira Lewis Jr. bucket. From that point on, the Crimson Tide led until the 8:22 mark of the second half.
Alabama led by 15 late in the first half. Tennessee would finish the half on a 9-2 run, however, to cut the lead to eight heading into the break. The Crimson Tide shot 51.7 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from the 3-point line, but because of 12 turnovers, the Vols were able to stay within reach.
Tennessee shot 34.4 percent from the field in the first half and just 20.0 percent from three.
The second half wasn’t a pretty half shooting the ball either for the Vols, but they were able to get Alabama into foul trouble, putting them on the free throw line time and time again. Tennessee took advantage, shooting 15-for-21 from the free throw line in the second half. The Vols finished 23-of-32 from the charity stripe.
UT’s defense also stepped up in the second half. Alabama’s shooting percentages plummeted, as the Tide shot just 39.3 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three in the second half. Alabama finished with 20 turnovers, and UT totaled 13 steals and six blocks on defense.
Upperclassmen Lead the Way
Jordan Bowden, John Fulkerson, and Yves Pons put Tennessee on their back to lead the second half charge.
Along with Pons’ crucial block with seconds remaining and his two clutch free throws to seal the game, Fulkerson poured in a career-high 22 points. The junior forward was 8-for-9 from the field, blocked three shots, grabbed three rebounds, and picked up a steal.
Bowden got the offense going in the second half. The senior guard scored four points on four free throws in the opening half as he was 0-for-6 from the field. Over the final 20 minutes, though, he added 16 points and shot 6-for-7 from the free throw line. He finished with 20 points, seven rebounds, six steals, and was 10-for-11 from the charity stripe.
Nobody was better on both ends than Pons, however. In addition to his game-winning plays, he finished with 14 points, 14 rebounds, and three blocks. Pons grabbed eight offensive rebounds that led to 19 total offensive boards for Tennessee and 20 second chance points.
Alabama Turnovers and Foul Trouble
While Tennessee needed its upperclassmen to step up and play to their potential, the Vols did receive quite a bit of help from their opponent. The Crimson Tide turned it over 20 times on the evening, which led to 13 points off turnovers for the Vols. Alabama had 12 turnovers in the opening half, most of which were unforced. In the second half, Alabama turned it over eight times, though this time Tennessee’s defense did a great job of forcing the Crimson Tide into mistakes.
Alabama was in quite a bit of foul trouble in the second half. It proved to be one of the biggest differences in the game.
Tennessee shot 32 free throws, whereas Alabama only had eight attempts from the free throw line. As a result of the Crimson Tide’s inability to defend without fouling, the Vols reached the bonus, and then the double-bonus early in the second half. It allowed Tennessee to shoot 15-for-21 from the free throw line and complete the comeback.
Three different Alabama players ended up fouling out of Tuesday night’s game. The Tide were whistled for 26 fouls compared to 14 fouls called on the Vols.
Tennessee turns their attention to No. 15 Kentucky (16-5, 6-2) for their next game. The Vols will take on the Wildcats in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET on CBS.