Knoxville, Tenn. J.P. Prince and his Tennessee teammates watched No. 2 Kentucky erase a 19-point lead and knew they might also be watching a shot at a second major upset slip away.
But, the Vols’ senior leader wouldn’t let that happen. With 90 seconds left, he scored on a broken play and added four clutch free throws down the stretch to lift No. 19 Tennessee past the surging Wildcats, 74-65, on Saturday.
“That was a mature win,” Prince said. “We had a big lead, let them come back, but didn’t panic.”
No, in fact the Vols (21-7, 9-5 SEC) seem to be growing accustomed to knocking off the giants of college basketball this year. Last month, they also handed top-ranked Kansas its only loss.
The Wildcats (27-2, 12-2), who had won eight in a row since their only other loss last month to South Carolina, had trailed by 19 early in the second half but managed to tie the game at 65 with just over two minutes left.
“When they tied it up, I’m saying to myself, ’We worked too hard,”’ said Tennessee guard Bobby Maze. “We believed in ourselves.”
The Wildcats got their usual solid games from freshman superstars John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins, but it wasn’t enough.
Wall had 19 points, while Cousins added 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Wall said he was disappointed the comeback attempt fell short but said the stakes would be much higher next month in the NCAA Tournament.
“Just imagine two weeks from now, if we lost this game, our season’s over with,” he said.