By the Numbers: Tennessee’s Upset of No. 6 Kentucky

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    (Photo via Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics)

    Tennessee came away with one of their most improbable victories of the year and over the last several years on Tuesday night when they erased a 17-point second half deficit to defeat No. 6 Kentucky 81-73 in Rupp Arena.

    The Vols stormed back down the stretch and dominated the Wildcats, avoiding Kentucky’s first season sweep of UT since 2012. The win was Tennessee’s second victory in their last three games in Lexington, and it improved the Vols’ overall record to 17-13 on the season.

    Tennessee’s victory was important for a number of reasons, but there was also some historical significance to the win. We take a look at what history was made and some other important numbers in our “by the numbers” perspective of the Vols’ big upset over the Wildcats.


    Tuesday night’s victory marked only the sixth time Tennessee’s men’s basketball program has ever won in Rupp Arena.

    Kentucky’s current home arena opened prior to the 1976-77 season. Tennessee got a win in the first meeting between the two teams in Rupp, defeating No. 2 Kentucky 71-67. The Vols won again in 1979, 66-55. But UT wouldn’t win in Rupp again for another 20 years, finally defeating the No. 6 Wildcats 47-46 in Lexington in 1999. Tennessee got another win in Rupp in 2006 by a score of 75-67, and it took another 12 years for the Vols to get another victory in Lexington, defeating No. 24 Kentucky 61-59 in 2018.

    All-time, Tennessee’s win on Tuesday is only their 18th in Lexington against Kentucky. The Vols are now 6-37 in non-SEC Tournament games against Kentucky in Rupp Arena, and they’re 18-91 against the Cats in Lexington.


    With Tuesday’s win, Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes became the first men’s basketball coach in school history to earn two wins in Rupp Arena.

    When the Vols first won in Rupp back in 1977, Ray Mears was the head coach. When Tennessee won again in 1979, Don DeVoe was UT’s head coach. Jerry Green led the Vols in 1999 when they won, and Bruce Pearl was Tennessee’s head coach for their victory in 2006.

    Barnes, meanwhile, was the head coach of the Vols when they prevailed in 2018 and again on Tuesday when they found a way to win again in Lexington. Barnes is now 2-3 all-time against Kentucky in Lexington.

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    Before Tuesday’s game, Kentucky was a sterling 129-0 over the last 10 years when they held a double-digit lead at halftime. The Wildcats had never lost a game when leading by 10 or more points at halftime under head coach John Calipari.

    That is, before Tuesday night.

    The Vols became the first team over the last decade to hand Kentucky a loss when the Wildcats had a double-digit lead at halftime. UK led by 11 points, 42-31, at the midway point of Tuesday night’s game. Their lead was pushed even further to 17 points early in the second half, and the game looked well in hand.

    But Tennessee didn’t give up, and the Vols ended up outscoring Kentucky 50-31 in the second half of play to escape with an eight-point victory.


    It seems like John Fulkerson sets a new career-high or comes close to eclipsing his career-high in points just about every week. On Tuesday, he not only broke his career-high in scoring again, but he almost did something no other Vol has ever done.

    Fulkerson’s 27 points against the Wildcats set a new career-high for him, surpassing the 25 points he scored on the road against South Carolina in an 63-61 loss on February 15th. His 10 made field goals tied his career-high (that he set on Saturday against Florida), and it marked the fourth time this season Fulkerson has scored 20 or more points in a game.

    But that’s not the only impressive feat for Fulkerson.

    The redshirt junior scored the second-most points by a Vol player in a win against Kentucky in Rupp Arena ever. His 27 points finished just five points shy of passing Chris Lofton’s 31 points in UT’s 75-67 victory over the Cats in 2006. Lofton finished that contest 11-of-18 from the floor, including 7-of-10 from three, with seven rebounds to go along with his 31 points.

    Fulkerson shot 10-of-15 from the field and was a perfect 7-of-7 from the free throw line. He also added six rebounds and two assists in 39 minutes.


    Against Florida on Saturday, Josiah-Jordan James played a stellar first half and faded a bit in the second half. On Tuesday, it was the exact opposite for the freshman guard, and it led to his best performance as a Vol.

    James scored 10 points in the first half against the Gators on Saturday, but he only added two more in the second half. He finished the game with 12 points, eight rebounds, six assists, two blocks, and a steal.

    Against Kentucky, James was almost non-existent in the first half, totaling just one assist and two fouls in 10 minutes of action. James didn’t attempt a single field goal in the first half against the Wildcats.

    The second half was a completely different story.

    James scored a career-high 16 points, all in the second half, against Kentucky. He went 5-of-9 from the floor, including 2-of-4 from three, and made four of his five free throws. James stuffed the stat sheet once again, adding in a team-high seven rebounds, five assists, two steals, and a block in 30 total minutes.

    Before Saturday’s game against Kentucky, James had scored just 20 points over his previous six games. In his last two games, he’s combined to score 28 points.


    Senior guard Jordan Bowden had a relatively quiet night compared to some of his teammates, but he moved up UT’s record books during the game.

    Bowden totaled 11 points, five assists, and four rebounds in 38 minutes of action against the Wildcats. The senior only hit one of his four three-pointers, but that one made three gave him sole possession of seventh place in Tennessee’s career record books.

    Bowden has now made 185 threes in his UT career, surpassing former teammate Admiral Schofield for seventh place in career made three-pointers in school history. The senior has struggled mightily for most of the season, but he’s had flashes of brilliance at times, and he’s never given up on himself. He would need another 25 three-pointers to pass Jon Higgins for sixth all-time in school history. Bowden’s 1,348 career points places him 24th all-time in school history, just 37 points away from passing JaJuan Smith for 23rd.

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    Tennessee’s offense has had problems putting up points a lot of times this season, but Tuesday saw the Vols’ offense explode in the second half.

    Not only was the Vols’ 81 points against Kentucky their second-highest total of the season (trailing the 82 points scored in wins against both Murray State and Arkansas), but it marked the most points Tennessee has scored against the Wildcats in Lexington in nearly three decades.

    The Vols’ 81 points on Tuesday are the most UT has scored against Kentucky on the road since a 99-88 loss in Rupp back in 1992. It’s the most points the Vols have scored in a win on the road against Kentucky since their 90-88 triumph back in 1976.


    With the win on Tuesday, Tennessee has now gone 5-3 against Kentucky in their last eight games and 7-5 against the Wildcats over their last 12 contests against them. That’s Tennessee’s best stretch against Kentucky in four decades.

    Kentucky has largely dominated the rivalry between themselves and the Vols, but Tennessee has had spurts where they’ve been able to handle the Cats. Tennessee’s 7-5 mark in their last 12 games against Kentucky marks their best stretch against UK since going 9-2 against the Wildcats from February 15, 1975 through January 5, 1980. Tennessee’s only two losses in that stretch came in 1978 when the Wildcats swept the Vols that season. The Vols won five-straight contests from 1975-77 then won four-straight in 1979 through 1980.

    During that span, Kentucky wasn’t ranked in five of UT’s nine wins. The Wildcats have been ranked every time the Vols have beaten them over the last 12 times the two teams have played, and UT has beaten a top-10 Kentucky squad four times in their seven victories.

    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.