LEXINGTON, Ky. — Keon Johnson scored 17 of his career-high 27 points after halftime, Jaden Springer added a career-high 23 points and No. 11 Tennessee rallied past Kentucky 82-71 on Saturday night.
Trailing 58-48 with 12 minutes remaining, the Volunteers (13-4, 6-4 Southeastern Conference) scored 12 straight points for the lead thanks to the freshmen. The lead traded hands twice more before they helped Tennessee take control with another 12-0 run for a 74-64 advantage and went on to its second consecutive victory at Rupp Arena and sixth in nine games against Kentucky (5-12, 4-6).
The two combined for 18 points during the decisive surge.
“We felt like when we down 10 we gave them that lead,” said Johnson, who finished 9 of 16 from the field and 9 of 11 from the line. “We just had to take care of the ball and play under control.”
Springer was 9 of 17 and scored 14 in the second half. Tennessee shot 50% in the final 20 minutes and 47% overall to bounce back from Wednesday’s 52-50 loss to Mississippi.
“Gotta give credit to coach (Rick Barnes), because he told us to be aggressive and make stuff happen,” said Springer, who played a career-high 35 minutes. “We weren’t really thinking about it too much, just thinking about going out and winning the game. I was definitely feeding off Keon, following his lead out there.”
Josiah-Jordan James added 10 points and 10 rebounds and Victor Bailey Jr. had nine points for Tennessee, which avoided a fourth loss in six games.
Their efforts offset career highs of 23 points and 11 rebounds by Kentucky’s Keion Brooks Jr., who scored 10 of his team’s 14 points early in the second half for its last lead. Devin Askew and Olivier Sarr each added 14 points, but the Wildcats lost for the sixth time in seven games. They’ve lost at least three consecutive games three times this season.
STATS AND SUCH
Tennessee made 13 of 15 free throws, including 11 of 12 after halftime. Kentucky was 17 of 19 but just shot and made all four in the second half. … The Vols owned the paint 44-30.
Tennessee: Fouls and several first-half droughts dug a hole for the Vols, but they didn’t flinch. Johnson and Springer turned it up a notch, and that made the difference in flipping the momentum, the pace and eventually the score.
“Too many fouls early,” coach Rick Barnes said. “We got ourselves in trouble. What we did in the second half was what we were trying to get done in the first half – get going downhill 94 feet. I thought those guys got in a rhythm there where you could just feel they had that attack mode.
“The last couple of days in practice all we’ve talked about was run, run, run, run, run and get out in transition, try to get easy baskets and try to get teams back on their heels as much as you can.”
Kentucky: A game the Wildcats needed ended with yet another familiar late collapse. This despite a huge boost from sophomore forward Brooks, their only returning starter who missed the first nine games with a leg injury. Climbing back seems an even taller task at this point for a team that has already matched the most losses under coach John Calipari with a bunch of games remaining.
“This team can paint the picture that they want, but not if you continue to have the same things happen,” Calipari said. “At critical times, decision making, execution. … We’ve got to get together and be about each other, especially if you aren’t playing well.”
Tennessee hosts Florida on Wednesday night.
Kentucky hosts Arkansas on Tuesday night.