Vols comeback to top Wildcat in the conference semifinals, advancing to Sunday’s SEC title game
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Lamonte’ Turner ended a shooting slump by sinking a go-ahead 3-pointer with 30 seconds left as No. 8 Tennessee rallied to beat No. 4 Kentucky 82-78 in a Southeastern Conference Tournament semifinal thriller Saturday.
Tennessee (29-4) trailed by eight with less than three minutes left before rallying to move a step closer to its first SEC Tournament title since 1979. The third-seeded Volunteers face No. 22 Auburn (25-9) in Sunday’s championship game.
Auburn, the fifth seed in this tournament, beat Florida 65-62 in the other semifinal. The Tigers are seeking their first SEC Tournament crown since 1985.
Tennessee went on an 11-2 run to take a 75-74 lead on a Grant Williams 3-pointer from in front of the Vols’ bench with 1:31 left. Kentucky (27-6) went back ahead with 1:06 left when PJ Washington delivered a putback of his own miss.
Admiral Schofield missed a 3-pointer on Tennessee’s next possession, but Williams got the rebound and called timeout with 38.5 seconds left. The Vols worked the ball to Turner, who buried a 3-point attempt from behind the top of the key.
Turner had been shooting 8 of 52 from 3-point range over his last 10 games before hitting that shot.
Washington missed a shot from right around the basket and then missed a putback attempt in the last 15 seconds left. Tennessee’s Jordan Bone got the rebound, was fouled and made two free throws to put Tennessee ahead 80-76 with 10.9 seconds left.
Ashton Hagans made adriving layup to cut the lead to 80-78 with four seconds remaining, but Bone sank two more free throws with 2.4 seconds left to seal the victory.
Schofield scored 21 points, Williams had 20 and Bone added 18 for Tennessee. Washington scored 16 points to lead five Kentucky players in double figures.
The third Kentucky-Tennessee meeting of the season took place roughly a three-hour drive from each campus, and about two-thirds of the Bridgestone Arena crowd appeared to be cheering for Kentucky as “Go Big Blue” chants competed with the sounds of “Rocky Top.” That environment created a much closer game after the home team won easily in the two regular-season matchups.
Tennessee led 36-34 at halftime by shooting 7 of 9 from 3-point range and capitalizing on foul trouble that caused all-SEC forward Washington to play just six first-half minutes for Kentucky.
Kentucky turned it around as Tennessee missed its first eight 3-point attempts in the second half while the Wildcats controlled the paint.
But in a game that featured nine ties and 15 lead changes, Tennessee made the last big shot.
Tennessee: Turner’s huge 3-pointer is good news for Tennessee, which needed him to pull out of his slump before the NCAA Tournament. The Vols are going to need Kyle Alexander to stay out of foul trouble if they want to make a deep postseason run. Foul trouble has been a major late-season issue for Alexander, and the 6-foot-9 forward fouled out of Saturday’s game with 10:55 remaining. Alexander had just two points and three rebounds in 16 minutes. That followed a 16-point, nine-rebound performance in an 83-76 quarterfinal victory over Mississippi State.
Kentucky: The Wildcats discovered what they can expect from forward Reid Travis amid the rigors of an NCAA Tournament run after seeing the way he performed on back-to-back days. In his first action since Feb. 19, Travis returned from a sprained right knee in a resrve role when Kentucky beat Alabama in an SEC quarterfinal Friday. He started Saturday and had 11 points and six rebounds in 28 minutes before fouling out.
Tennessee faces Auburn in Sunday’s championship game.
Kentucky learns the date, location and opponent for its first NCAA Tournament game.