LEXINGTON, Ky. - Its coach was greeted with jeers and boos his first game back on the bench, but that wasn't the rudest welcome the Tennessee men's basketball team got Tuesday night.
That came from the Kentucky Wildcats.
Even with coach Bruce Pearl back calling the plays and leading scorer Scotty Hopson back in the lineup, the Volunteers fell behind early and never could match stops with catch-up baskets. They fell 73-61 to No. 18 Kentucky in a Southeastern Conference game at Rupp Arena.
"Too many points off turnovers, too many second-chance points because we couldn't keep them from driving the lane, and just too many no-shows," said Pearl, who coached in his first conference game this season after sitting out the first eight because of a league suspension.
"We had a couple of 'no-show' performances."
Melvin Goins led the Vols (15-9, 5-4) with 16 points, Josh Bone added 13 off the bench and Tobias Harris scored 10 but added just two rebounds and had five turnovers.
Kentucky (17-6, 5-4) outrebounded the Vols 38-28 and scored 11 second-chance points off 10 offensive rebounds in the second half. The Wildcats scored 21 points off UT's 14 turnovers, and UT managed only 10 points off Kentucky's 16 turnovers.
"We got out-toughed on many possessions," Goins said. "They beat us to 50-50 balls, they beat us on some offensive rebounding opportunities, and we turned the ball over as well. It didn't seem like we cherished possession enough to win the game."
DeAndre Liggins led four Wildcats scoring in double figures with 19 points. Freshman Brandon Knight put in 12, Terrance Jones had 11 rebounds and four blocks to go with his 10 points and Josh Harrellson scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half.
"When we got them in the halfcourt I thought we guarded them pretty well," Pearl said. "The exception was when they were able to turn some corners, which is a big part of their offense. Kentucky can play a lot better than that, but in the area where they had to win, which I thought were the areas of rebounding and toughness, I thought they did."
The Wildcats led by 19 before UT finished the first half on a 14-2 run. Goins scored the first basket of the second half and the Vols trailed 35-30 before Kentucky scored 13 straight points. UT pulled to within 10 minutes later, but Kentucky spurted again, including consecutive Harrellson baskets on offensive putbacks.
Hopson, whose playing status was questionable after missing UT's last two games with a sprained ankle, scored six of the Vols' first 13 points on his way to 11 for the game.
"I thought Scotty showed you something," Pearl said. "He really battled to come back. I think he answered some questions about his toughness. He's not 100 percent and I thought he attacked the rim."
"It's definitely sore right now," said Hopson, who made three of eight shots in his 24 minutes. "Sometimes having to guard going to my right and pushing off my left, it was hard doing that, and sometimes jabbing left, obviously my left foot was hurting. I tried not to think about it during the course of the game and keep playing good basketball.
"I just wanted to prove it to myself. I wanted to come out and play aggressively, don't think about the pain and try to make big plays for us. I did my best out there."