LEXINGTON, Ky. — Unpredictable. Inconsistent. Up and down. Tennessee basketball has been a little bit of everything this season.
On Tuesday night at Rupp Arena: Unbelievable.
John Fulkerson carried his team with a career-high 27 points, freshman Josiah-Jordan James hit the go-ahead three and the Vols rallied from 17 points down in the second half to stun No. 6 Kentucky, 81-73.
Fulkerson went 10-for-15 from the field and 7-for-7 from the free-throw line for Tennessee (17-13, 9-8 SEC). Yves Pons, who hit a free-throw jumper with 1:48 left to make it a four-point lead, finished with 15. James scored all 16 of his points in the second half, helping lead the improbable comeback.
Kentucky (24-6, 14-3) got a team-high 21 from Tyrese Maxey.
The lead for the Wildcats was 17 after an Immanuel Quickley 3-point play at the 16:54 mark. The Vols countered with a 9-0 run to force a John Calipari timeout just under three minutes later, getting the deficit down to eight.
It was down to five after a Pons jumper with eight minutes left. It was two after another Fulkerson and-1.
It was gone completely when James stepped into an open three with 6:47 left. It was suddenly a 63-60 lead with 6:11 to go, after a Santiago Vescovi transition layup.
It was a 10-0 run to end a 29-9 run.
The last possession on each end summed up the first half.
Fulkerson scored to make it 15 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting in 19 minutes in the first half, getting the Vols within nine, but Nate Sestina dunked home an EJ Montgomery miss to get the lead back to double digits just before the horn, at 42-31.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, Kentucky was 129-0 over the last 10 seasons when leading by double digits at halftime.
Tennessee shot 56.5 percent (13-23) from the field in the first half and 40.0 percent (4-10) from three, but it didn’t matter. Kentucky matched, shooting 55.2 percent (16-29) and made four of its five 3-point attempts. The Wildcats scored 20 points off eight Vols turnovers in the first half, too.
Santiago Vescovi had half of Tennessee’s 10 missed shots, going 0-for-5 from the floor before the half.
The Vols led 9-7 after a Fulkerson bucket with 15:53 left in the half, but Kentucky then started what would turn into a 17-2 run. The Wildcats scored the last 10 on the run to go up 24-11 on a Nick Richards field goal.
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Tennessee returns home to host No. 17 Auburn (24-5, 11-5) on Saturday (noon Eastern Time, ESPN2) for Senior Day at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols led by 17 points with just under 15 minutes left at Auburn Arena on Feb. 22, but Auburn used an 18-0 run to turn the game around, winning 73-66.