In what was easily its worst performance of the season, Tennessee basketball was shocked at home by the Kentucky Wildcats 70-55 in Knoxville, Tenn. at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols failed to sweep one of the worst Kentucky teams in decades.
Without Josiah-Jordan James due to a sore wrist for the second straight game, UT, who came into the game ranked No. 19 in the AP Poll and No. 20 in the Coaches Poll, stayed in it early, leading 10-8 with just over 14 minutes to go. However, a three-pointer by Davion Mintz sparked a 15-0 run for UK, and they never relinquished that lead.
Kentucky improved to 8-13 and 7-7 in SEC play on the year, and Tennessee basketball fell to 15-6 and 8-6 in SEC play. Up next for UT is a trip to the Vanderbilt Commodores next Wednesday, while UK, now on a three-game winning streak, will host the Texas A&M Aggies Tuesday. Here are three things we learned from this game.
1. Shot selection was atrocious.
Yes, missing Josiah-Jordan James was a killer. But this game wasn’t even close. Here’s the crazy part, though. The Vols only had 10 turnovers, shot 13-of-16 from the free throw line, and Victor Bailey Jr. scored 18 points while going 4-of-8 from the three-point line. They were 6-of-22 from beyond the arc as a team, but that and no James aren’t enough to lose this badly.
There’s only one way to explain it. UT was horrendous with its shot selection. They obsessively relied on the midrange game, which is why Jaden Springer, their best scorer, only had four points and went 2-of-11 from the field. Keon Johnson had 15 points but was 4-of-14 from the field. Santiago Vescovi was 1-of-5. As a team, Rocky Top was 18-of-56 from the field.
2. John Fulkerson disappeared again.
Yves Pons was himself with 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting, two steals and three blocks. However, John Fulkerson reverted back to struggling after a solid performance Wednesday. Fulkerson, part of the horrendous shot selection, did have seven rebounds, but he had only four points. Meanwhile, with him as the main inside guy, Tennessee basketball was outrebounded 43-31.
In a crucial situation, Fulkerson missed the front end of one-and-one with just over six minutes left and the Vols down by 15. Had Fulkerson hit that, he could have turned it to two points and made it a 13-point game in the six-minute mark. However, Kentucky then hit two free throws on the other end to go up by 17, effectively clinching the game.
3. Perimeter defense was an issue.
This is where Josiah-Jordan James was missed. As we mentioned, Pons did his part, but The Vols only forced 11 turnovers as a team. Meanwhile, Kentucky shot 7-of-14 from the three-point line. Although the defense wasn’t bad once the Wildcats got into the lane, Rick Barnes’ team was not aggressive on the outside, and they paid for it.
Johnson and Bailey both had steals along with Pons, to be fair, but Tennessee basketball needed more from them. Springer and Vescovi, the offensive threats, disappeared, so Johnson in particular needed to create more on the defensive end. That didn’t happen.