Tennessee came out after its impressive win against South Carolina with a complete dud of a first-half performance against Kentucky and the second half wouldn’t be much better. Kentucky rolled to an easy 70-55 win in Thompson-Boling Arena.
“We don't handle success well, ” Tennessee head coachRick Barnes said. “We’re not where we need to be mentally yet.”
Josiah Jordan James went through warmups pre-game but would end up missing his second consecutive game due to a nagging wrist injury.
Tennessee once again went with a starting lineup of Victor Bailey, Jaden Springer, Keon Johnson, Yves Pons and John Fulkerson.
The move would not pay the same dividends as it did against South Carolina.
Kentucky dominated Tennessee in the first half in all facets of the game.
Davion Mintz was the star of the show for Kentucky in the first half. Mintz went a perfect five-for-five from behind the three-point line for 15 first-half points. He also had two assists.
Isaiah Jackson also had an impressive first half with 11 points on 56% shooting from the floor while going five for five from the free-throw line. He also had two rebounds, two blocks and a steal.
Kentucky as a team shot 60% from the floor and 66% from the three-point line as a team in the first half, both of which are incredible leaps from its average on the season of 41% and 32% from the three-point line.
For as good as Kentucky was, Tennessee was not.
Tennessee shot just 36% from the floor as a team in the first half and went just three-for-four from the free-throw line.
Bailey was the only Vol to have any real offensive production in the first half. He had 12 points on four-of-six shooting from the field and three-of-five shooting from behind the three-point line.
Johnson was able to get seven points but it was on 33% shooting from the floor and two made free throws. He also had three assists and a steal.
Kentucky was able to out rebound Tennessee 16-13. Kentucky also outscored Tennessee in the paint 16-10.
Kentucky was able to force eight Tennessee turnovers and scored 15 points off of those turnovers. Kentucky also had 14 fast-break points to Tennessee’s five.
The first half was a showcase of what happens when Tennessee doesn’t play its brand of basketball and goes ice-cold shooting.
“We didn’t practice well, and it bled into the game, ” Bailey said. “Came out lethargic in that first half, and it cost us.”
The result of today’s first half showcase was a 45-30 halftime deficit for Tennessee.
Tennessee was no better in the second half, maybe even worse offensively.
Kentucky only scored 25 second-half points on 20% shooting from the field and 20% shooting from the three-point line. However, Tennessee did nothing to help itself. Tennessee shot just 26.9% from the field and a completely abysmal 8% from the three-point line.
Tennessee once again found a way to sink into its inconsistency and it led them to another similar result that didn’t end in success.
“I don’t know, man, ” Keon Johnson on why the team is so inconsistent. “To be honest with you, I don’t know how to answer that. But we could be special if we could figure that out.”
Johnson would finish with 15 points but it was on 28% shooting from the field and 20% shooting from behind the three-point line. Johnson also got no real help from his freshman counterpart Springer.
Springer had just four points on 18% shooting from the field. He did have five rebounds and an assist but also had three turnovers.
“I thought they were hesitant and Kentucky also respected their ability to get by them, ” Barnes said. “Just wasn't a clean game by either of them.”
One of the main problems for Tennessee once again reared its ugly head today is the inability of Tennessee’s seniors to produce consistently.
Pons was able to score 10 points but he had just two rebounds along with his three blocks.
Fulkerson who should’ve been riding high after his strong performance against South Carolina completely floundered against the Wildcats.
Fulkerson had just four points on 14% shooting from the field along with two made free throws. He was able to grab seven rebounds but it was one of the only positives to his game today.
“You expect younger guys to be up and down a little bit, but with the older guys, you expect consistency more than anything else, ” Barnes said. “ We’re just not getting that at all.”
Tennessee’s running out of time to fix the problems that it needs to to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
Tennessee will have a chance to once again get on the right track at Vanderbilt on Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET on SEC Network.