NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Facing an eight-point deficit with three minutes left, No. 8 Tennessee rallied in the final moments to down No. 4 Kentucky, 82-78, in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament at Bridgestone Arena.
For the second straight year, the Vols (29-4, 15-3 SEC) have advanced to the tournament championship game. The Big Orange will take on No. 22 Auburn in the final on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET (ESPN).
Tennessee’s 29 wins stand as the second-most in program history. Only the 2007-08 Volunteers logged more victories (31).
UT struggled to get any offense going for the majority of the second half Saturday , missing 15 out of 20 shots during a 13-minute stretch. However, Tennessee rallied in the face of adversity.
After UK’s Keldon Johnson drove to the basket and converted an “and-1” play, the Wildcats (27-6, 15-3 SEC) had all the momentum, and Big Blue Nation was roaring with 2:58 left to play. SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams responded 13 seconds later by drawing a foul and knocking down both free throws.
After a turnover on the in-bounds by Kentucky, Williams got the ball in the paint, drew another foul and converted an “and-1” to cut the lead to three points. Kentucky’s PJ Washington then hit a jumper on the other end to try and halt the swing in momentum, but Tennessee’s All-SEC wing, Admiral Schofield, buried his fourth 3-pointer of the day with 1:59 left.
Tennessee got a stop on the other end of the floor and had a chance to take the lead with less than two minutes to play. All-SEC point guard Jordan Bone drove around a screen set by Schofield and passed the ball out to the corner, where Williams hit a clutch 3-pointer to give the Vols their first lead since the 8:46 mark.
Washington regained the lead for Kentucky, getting an offensive rebound and getting an uncontested tip-in, but Tennessee would not be denied. Lamonte Turner stepped up with 30 seconds left and drained a 3-pointer to give the Vols an insurmountable lead.
Bone iced the game in the final seconds, knocking down all four of his free throws to keep the Big Orange up by two possessions the remainder of the way.
Tennessee’s All-SEC trio paved the way for the come-from-behind victory, standing as the top three scorers in the game. Schofield finished with a game-high 21 points, while Williams recorded 20 points, 17 of which came in the second half, seven rebounds and was 9-of-11 from the charity stripe. Bone added 18 points and five assists.
The first half was everything the top-10 matchup was hyped up to be, with both teams swapping baskets and making highlight plays. Neither team led by more than five points in the period, but Tennessee hit its final three shots of the half to take a 36-34 advantage into halftime.
Schofield had the hot hand early on, connecting on three 3-pointers to lead all scorers with 13 points. Bone and Jordan Bowden also knocked down a pair of threes each to keep the momentum going. As a team, the Vols shot an impressive 78 percent (7-of-9) from beyond the arc in the first half.
Kentucky had their big plays, though, including a deep trey by Reid Travis in the final seconds of the half to cut the deficit to two points. The Wildcats dominated the boards in the opening 20 minutes, owning an 18-11 advantage on the glass, and tallied seven offensive rebounds for nine second-chance points.