LEXINGTON (AP) — Jamal Murray scored 28 points, Derek Willis made seven 3-pointers for a career-high 25 and No. 14 Kentucky beat Tennessee 80-70 on Thursday night for its fourth straight victory.
Sixteen days after blowing a 21-point lead in an 84-77 loss at Tennessee, the Wildcats (20-6, 10-3 Southeastern Conference) held their ground this time against the Volunteers. Kentucky stretched a six-point halftime lead to as many as 22 for another double-digit win and has won by an average margin of 22.5 points during its streak.
Murray’s perimeter shooting helped set the tone before Willis got hot to make five from behind the arc in the second half.
Armani Moore scored 21 points and Kevin Punter Jr. added 19 for Tennessee (12-14, 5-8 SEC), which got within 10 points in the final minute but really wasn’t that close in losing for the third time in four games since upsetting Kentucky.
Tyler Ulis added 11 points and nine assists for Kentucky, which shot 26 of 62 overall (42 percent) but made 11 of 24 from long range (46 percent).
More importantly, the Wildcats took control — for now— of the SEC with a one-game lead over LSU. There’s still plenty of time for upheaval with plenty of teams within striking distance of the top spot, but Kentucky did what it had to do for one night at least.
The Volunteers shot just 38 percent and were outrebounded 45-39 but made things interesting against the Wildcats down the stretch. But Kentucky had a lead and made sure it stuck in the rematch.
Kentucky’s challenge this time was getting the lead as it scored the opening basket but didn’t regain it until Murray’s 3-pointer nearly 9 minutes later for an 11-9 advantage. Tennessee’s athleticism had something to do with that as much as the Wildcats’ shaky shooting, but the game remained close because the Vols stumbled through a 1-for-13 drought from the field.
Though the Wildcats shot 40 percent through 20 minutes, Murray’s basket helped put nervous fans at ease and started Kentucky toward a 36-30 halftime lead. The freshman guard was 4 of 6 including two 3-pointers in the half and he got outside help from Willis, who made two from behind the arc.
Willis’ biggest basket might have been a buzzer-beating putback after Tennessee got within four, giving Kentucky a crack that it broke wide open in the second half from long range. The Wildcats began 5 of 6 from behind the arc and outscored Tennessee 18-6 over 3 1/2 minutes for a 54-36 lead that provided a cushion to withstand the Vols’ late run.
Tennessee: Punter, the SEC’s No. 2 scorer at 22.3 points per game coming in, made his first basket with 3:11 remaining in a 1-for-6 first half. He scored 17 of his 19 points in the second half. … Devon Baulkman went to the locker room with a left arm injury with 7:20 left.
Kentucky: Ulis shot 1-for-7 in the first half. … Marcus Lee (four points, four rebounds) went to the locker room briefly in the second half before returning to the bench but did not play.
Tennessee: Hosts LSU on Saturday.
Kentucky: Visits Texas A&M on Saturday.