Tennessee falls short after late game surge against Kentucky

Photo by Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

By Griffin Hadley

KNOXVILLE, Tenn – It was too little too late for No. 4 Tennessee as sharp shooting No. 15 Kentucky was able to spoil the senior day fun for the Volunteers.

The Wildcats (23-8, 14-4 SEC) defeated the Vols (24-7, 14-4) 85-81, in dramatic

Tennessee fought hard, and they fought all the way until the final buzzer, however, an
8-0 run in the last 50 seconds of play was not enough to secure a final SEC win.

Fans started to head towards the aisles at Food City Center until Zakai Zeigler
converted a steal into an old fashioned three-point-play. The Vols followed with yet
another steal, cutting Kentucky’s once 14-point lead to just three.

With eleven seconds to go Josiah Jordan-James missed an open look for three to tie
the game. Kentucky freshman Rob Dillingham was then fouled and converted one of
two from the free throw line to ice the game away, putting out Tennessee’s big orange

“We were way too emotional at the start of the game, and we didn’t execute,” said
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes. “I thought we really did a good job cutting the lead

Fifth-year senior Dalton Knecht gave it everything he had, going for a career high of 40

This is just the 16th 40-point game in Tennessee history and Knecht is now averaging
25.5 points in SEC play, good enough for the highest average in the last 14 years.

The first half started out chaotic, with few whistles and a plethora of loose balls. There
was plenty of back-and-forth until Kentucky was able to separate.

“We were too antsy, especially on the offensive end,” Barnes said. “We had too many
shots that were not high-quality shots.”

Tennessee struggled with Zeigler on the bench thanks to two early first half fouls. With
just over three minutes to play in the first the Vols trailed by double digits.

“I give Kentucky a lot of credit,” said James postgame. “We weren’t locked in for
the first 20 minutes. They’re hitting their stride at the right time and offensively they’re

Knecht kept Tennessee in the game, scoring at-will to end the half. He was able to help
cut the Kentucky lead down to four heading into the locker room.

Despite James’ starting the second half with a triple, Kentucky followed with a
downpour of threes. Cats raining shots from deep on a soggy day in Knoxville, and it
seemed the boys in blue had put this SEC regular season finale out of reach for

Kentucky shot the lights out, shooting 51.7% from three, making 15-of-29 from behind
the arc. Reed Shepard made seven of ten from deep, scoring 27 total off the bench.

Senior Antonio Reeves tacked on 27 of his own, shooting 50% from the field, and
sophomore Justin Edwards added four threes of his own, finishing with 16 points for the

“They’re the most explosive offensive team in the country,” Barnes said about Kentucky
“John (Calipari)’s teams always get better this time of year.”

With 7:32 to go Zeigler nailed a three point try, cutting the Kentucky lead to five. The
roof of the Food City Center was almost blown off, igniting some life back into the arena.

Although the Vols were able to turn the tides, they were unable to get close enough.
Every time Tennessee threw a punch the Wildcats were able to counter, extending their
lead when it mattered most.

Both the Vols and the Wildcats will now shift their focus to the SEC tournament.

“We’ll definitely be more calmed down and we’ll be ready when the lights are on,”
Knecht said postgame.

The Vols will be the number one seed after clinching the conference championship
Wednesday night in their win versus South Carolina.

After a double-bye, Tennessee will open conference tournament play on Friday in