LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Josiah-Jordan James and Zakai Zeigler each scored 26 points, including 17 by James after halftime, and No. 5 Tennessee topped No. 10 Kentucky 103-92 on Saturday night.
Zeigler made all five of his field goal attempts for 13 points before halftime, including three from long range, helping the Volunteers (16-5, 6-2 Southeastern Conference) lead throughout.
James followed his lead in the second half with a pair of 3s sandwiched around another by Santiago Vescovi for a 57-47 advantage that grew to 16 with 9:22 remaining.
“Our biggest mindset going into the game was making it a 40-minute fight, putting two halves together," said James, who made 9 of 18 from the field and 4 or 9 from long range.
"You can’t do that without starting strong out the gate. We really just wanted to apply pressure on both ends of the floor. I think we did a really good job coming out the gate, and then we were able to sustain it for 40 minutes.”
Zeigler made 8 of 11 shots (3 of 6 from the behind the arc) and dished out a career-high 13 of Tennessee's 22 assists. Jonas Aidoo had 11 points and 11 rebounds, helping the Vols beat Kentucky 44-38 on the glass. Vescovi also had 11 points.
Rob Dillingham had a career-high 35 points with six 3-pointers off the bench before fouling out for Kentucky (15-5, 5-4), which dropped its second in a row and third in four games. Antonio Reeves had 21 and Reed Sheppard 16 in his second consecutive start at point guard in place of injured D.J. Wagner (ankle).
“It was an alright game,” Dillingham said. “We still got a loss. The confidence came from wanting to win. When I’m down, I feel like whatever we need to do, I have to take a shot and I have to make it.”
Sheppard twice got the Wildcats within seven late in the game, but James and Zeigler answered with jumpers as Tennessee won the showdown of top-10 teams. SEC scoring leader Dalton Knecht added 16 points as the Vols rebounded from Tuesday's home loss to South Carolina.
Play was stopped for 10 minutes in the second half as officials decided discipline after the Vols' Tobe Awaka and the Wildcats' Aaron Bradshaw exchanged shoves. Both received dead ball contact technical fouls along with Tennessee's Jordan Gainey and Dillingham.
Tennessee redeemed itself by beating Kentucky and will likely stay in the top 10. The Wildcats' first losing streak this season figures to drop them a few spots.
Tennessee: The Vols were impressive on both ends, establishing offense with strong perimeter shooting that answered most every Kentucky challenge along with going strong to the basket. They shot 49% and came away with a 44-point improvement from the last game and their first triple-digit performance this season.
“I thought our older guys were important tonight,” coach Rick Barnes said, also noting his team's competitive practices. “We play fast, too. We tried to concentrate on transition defense but also do what we do.”
Kentucky: The Wildcats played catchup from the start, and not just on the scoreboard. They were a step behind defensively and struggled again on the boards. Dillingham's shooting kept them within reach but they needed more, especially in the paint: Kentucky was outscored 42-30, allowing Zeigler numerous easy drives to the basket.
Tennessee hosts LSU on Wednesday night.
Kentucky visits Vanderbilt on Tuesday night.
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