Kennedy Chandler scored 19 points, and ninth-ranked Tennessee withstood a late rally against fifth-ranked Kentucky to claim a 69-62 victory Saturday to advance to the Southeastern Conference tournament title game in Tampa.
Tennessee (25-7), the #2 seed, will take on #8 Texas A&M (23-11) in Sunday’s title game, the third time in the past four tournaments the Volunteers have reached the championship game. Tennessee, however, has not won the event since 1979.
The Vols will get an opportunity to break that streak Sunday largely thanks to the work of Chandler, who went 8 for 16 from the field. Zakai Zeigler scored 11 points and Josiah-Jordan James added 10, but defense was the key to Tennessee’s win.
A powerful Kentucky offense that has averaged an SEC-leading 80 points per game this season was held well below that mark, turning the ball over 10 times and missing its first 11 3-point attempts of the game. In total, third-seeded Kentucky (26-7) shot just 34.4 percent (22 of 64) from the floor and a dismal 2 of 20 from 3-point range.
Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe has led his team in points and the nation in rebounds this season, but Tennessee held him in check for most of the afternoon. Tshiebwe fouled out with 13 points and 11 rebounds, making him unavailable as the Wildcats attempted to mount a rally in the closing minutes.
Keion Brooks Jr. scored 19 points to help Kentucky trim a 14-point deficit to three points with 1:31 remaining, but the inability to hit an outside shot thwarted the comeback.
Four missed 3-pointers in the last minute doomed Kentucky’s hopes, and Tennessee secured rebounds without Tshiebwe on the floor to earn free throws.
Tennessee led most of the game, holding the advantage for more than 37 of the 40 minutes and all of the second half.