Freshmen Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer lead Vols to comeback win at Kentucky

AP photo by James Crisp / Tennessee's Keon Johnson shoots over Kentucky's B.J. Boston during the first half Saturday night in Lexington, Ky.

Tennessee has discovered a most unlikely home away from home: Rupp Arena.

Behind a Saturday night to remember for the touted freshman tandem of Keon Johnson and Jaden Springer, the No. 11 Volunteers rallied from 10 points down with 12 minutes remaining for a resounding 82-71 Southeastern Conference triumph over reeling Kentucky.

Johnson and Springer combined for a staggering 50 points, including 18 straight for the Vols (13-4, 6-4) in turning a 58-58 tie with the Wildcats (5-12, 4-6) into a 76-66 lead. A Santiago Vescovi 3-pointer with 1:22 remaining ended the scoring run by Tennessee's newcomers, with Vescovi providing the Vols a 79-68 advantage.

Tennessee has now won three of its past four games at Rupp after winning twice in Lexington from 1980 to 2017. The Vols have won six of their past nine against the Wildcats overall, with Tennessee coach Rick Barnes improving to 8-5 against Kentucky counterpart John Calipari.

Johnson scored 27 points on 9-of-16 shooting, and he was 9-for-11 on free throws. Springer tallied 23, was 9-of-17 from the floor and went 4-for-4 at the line.

photo AP photo by James Crisp / Tennessee's Jaden Springer passes away from Kentucky's Jacob Toppin and Dontaie Allen during the first half of Saturday night's SEC matchup in Lexington, Ky.

Their performances stole the show from Kentucky's Keion Brooks, who had a career night with 23 points and 11 rebounds.

A Brandon Boston dunk with 12 minutes remaining put Kentucky up 58-48, but a Johnson jumper at the 8:40 mark capped a 12-0 run and gave the Vols a 60-58 lead. The Wildcats have struggled down the stretch in games this season, and Saturday provided more of the same for a squad that has dropped six of seven after a 3-0 start to SEC play.

Kentucky took a 42-34 halftime lead by forcing eight Tennessee turnovers while committing just three and by drawing 15 fouls. The 42 first-half points by the Wildcats were the most allowed by the Vols this season, but the fouls were the big story.

Within the game's first four minutes, Vescovi, John Fulkerson and Olivier Nkamhoua picked up two fouls apiece, which resulted in Johnson, Springer, Josiah-Jordan James and Victor Bailey having to play lengthy stretches, first with 7-footer Uros Plavsic and then with E.J. Anosike.

Olivier Sarr and Devin Askew hit consecutive 3-pointers to stake Kentucky to a 27-20 lead at the 8:58 mark of the first half, but Tennessee responded with a 12-3 run and took a 32-30 lead on a Springer 3-pointer with 6:45 before halftime. The Wildcats then regained momentum with a 12-2 closing run before intermission, with Brooks scoring the final five points of the half.

Johnson and Springer combined for 19 first-half points on 8-of-13 shooting, with each saddled with two fouls as well. Springer played 19 first-half minutes.

A Sarr jumper 21 seconds into the second half gave Kentucky its first double-digit lead at 44-34.

Contact David Paschall at or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.