— Mack Brown (@ESPN_CoachMack) February 7, 2018
Coach Rick Barnes on Tuesday took another major step toward leading the Tennessee Volunteers back to the upper echelon in the Southeastern Conference.
No. 15 Tennessee beat 24th-ranked Kentucky 61-59 on the road at famed Rupp Arena, completing the program’s first regular-season sweep of the Wildcats since 1999.
Sophomore Lamonte Turner scored 16 points and hit a decisive three-pointer with 28 seconds left for the Volunteers, now 18-5 and 8-3 in the SEC.
For the Wildcats, who fell to 17-7 and 6-5, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander hit a shot over Kyle Alexander that gave Kentucky the lead in the last minute.
But Turner responded with a three and a 59-58 Tennessee advantage.
A steal and a dunk by Tennessee’s Admiral Schofield salted the game away.
“I tell coach all the time, put (Turner) in late in the game because I think he is the most clutch guy I’ve been around,” Schofield told the Tennessean newspaper. “He is a big-time shooter in my book.
“He puts the work in. … I’m proud of him. I’m happy for him. He deserves everything he’s got.
“But the biggest thing is Tennessee beat Kentucky in Rupp tonight. That was our goal coming in here. We got it done.”
Barnes finished 15-19 and 16-16 in his first two years in Knoxville.
But in his third season, the former longtime coach of the Texas Longhorns has sparked the Vols’ roll into the upper tier of the conference.
Tennessee trails only Auburn (21-2, 9-1) in the SEC standings.
If the Vols keep winning, they would become the fourth program that Barnes has led into the NCAA tournament.
He’s done it previously at Providence, Clemson and Texas.
Barnes did the best work of his career in Austin, where he led the Longhorns to 16 NCAA tournaments in 17 years, including the 2003 Final Four.