Tennessee was able to keep its SEC Tournament hopes alive with an 82-78 win against Kentucky on Saturday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Here are two takeaways from the Vols’ wild win:
Clutch down the stretch
With just under three minutes remaining in the game, it looked as if Kentucky would knock the Vols out of the SEC Tournament for the second year in a row. The Wildcats were up 72-64, and Tennessee appeared to be out of gas.
The Vols finished the game on an 18-6 run, highlighted by 3-pointers from Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams and Lamonte Turner.
“The biggest thing is, shooters keep shooting,” Schofield said. “Towards the end, we just got great looks and made great plays on the defensive end and on the glass.”
With four seconds left in the game, Tennessee’s lead was two as it inbounded from the far baseline. Rick Barnes and the coaching staff drew up a play for Jordan Bone to throw the ball in.
He didn’t like that idea.
“I'm like, I don't want to take it out,” Bone said. “I want to be the one getting fouled. No one in the country can stop me from getting open.”
Grant Williams was chosen to throw the ball in. Bone told Williams to find him.
He did, and Bone sped away from Kentucky defenders before getting fouled with two seconds left. Both free throws fell through the net, securing Tennessee’s trip back to the SEC Championship game.
Bone finished the game 8 of 8 from the charity stripe.
“If you continue to work hard, you should never be rattled in any situation,” Bone said. “Because when you work hard, you just have that confidence in yourself. That’s how I was when I stepped up to the line…I knew those were going in.”
Split crowd for round three
When Tennessee and Kentucky met at Rupp Arena, there was a smattering of orange in the stands. When the two teams met a few weeks later in Knoxville, some orange—less than the average Tennessee vs. Kentucky game at Thompson-Boling Arena—made an appearance.
The third meeting took place at a neutral site.
In what appeared to be a crowd with about 65 percent Wildcats’ fans and 35 percent Vol fans, the noise shifted as rapidly as the game itself. With each Kentucky basket, the “Big Blue Nation” made its presence felt.
Tennessee fans did the same when their team went on a run.
“That was probably the best game I’ve ever played in…the crowd was amazing,” Schofield said. “Vol Nation was great, BBN (Big Blue Nation) was great. It was just a great environment. It was one for the ages.”
The 20,933 fans were the most ever at an SEC Tournament game held at Bridgestone Arena.
“That just shows you how much the SEC means to a lot of people,” Schofield said. “It just shows the passion that we have in our conference.”
With Saturday’s win, the Vols have advanced to the SEC Tournament Championship game on Sunday afternoon. Tipoff between Tennessee and Auburn is set for 1:00 p.m. ET.
“I just think it’s a credit to all the hard work we have put in,” John Fulkerson said. “All credit to our whole program. Our coaches, our staff, our players…it’s what we’re working for.”