LEXINGTON, Ky. – Brandon Knight scored 17 points and No. 20 Kentucky finally found a way to win a close game, edging No. 21 Vanderbilt 68-66 on Tuesday night.
Terrence Jones added 15 points and nine rebounds for the Wildcats (21-8, 9-6 Southeastern Conference), who remained unbeaten at Rupp Arena under coach John Calipari.
Festus Ezeli led the Commodores (21-8, 9-6) with 22 points but fumbled away a chance at a game-tying shot just before the final buzzer. John Jenkins scored 13 of his 16 points in the second half for Vanderbilt, which rallied from a 15-point deficit to take the lead with 4:25 to play.
Kentucky, which came in 0-6 in games decided by five points or less this season, regained its composure behind Knight. The Wildcats hit 7 of 8 free throws over the final 1:36 to win their 34th straight home game, the third-longest streak in school history.
This one, however, wasn't easy.
The teams traded the lead four times after Lance Goulbourne gave the Commodores their first lead of the game on a driving layup with 4:25 remaining.
Jones gave Kentucky the lead for good on a free throw with 52 seconds left and Kentucky center Josh Harrellson — the lone player honored on Senior Night — blocked Vanderbilt's Jeffery Taylor then swiped a loose ball out of Ezeli's hands.
Jones hit two free throws to put Kentucky up 66-63 with 18 seconds to go. Goulbourne made a layup to get Vanderbilt back within one with 8.6 seconds left before Knight calmly drained two more free throws to push the lead back to three.
Kentucky intentionally fouled Vanderbilt's Brad Tinsley near midcourt to protect the lead. He hit the first free throw and intentionally missed the second but couldn't quite chase down the rebound in the corner.
The Wildcats inbounded to Jones, who stood on the sideline for a second waiting to be fouled. He stepped out of bounds instead and the Commodores had one last shot.
The inbounds pass came Ezeli, who had bulled his way through the lane all night. He couldn't quite control the pass however, and the ball ended up in Harrellson's hands as time expired.
It was a storybook ending for a blue collar player who has evolved into an unlikely leader as a senior. Harrellson finished with eight points and nine rebounds in his final home game.
While the crowd in full throat every time Harrellson touched the ball, it was the play of his younger teammates that helped stake the Wildcats to a 40-29 halftime lead.
Jones, who has slumbered through slow starts recently, appeared energized. He wasn't the only one. Taking a cue from Harrellson, the Wildcats attacked the offensive glass relentlessly. Even freshman guard Doron Lamb and center Eloy Vargas got involved.
Lamb came into the game with seven offensive rebounds on the season but had two in the first half. The little-used Vargas elicited a fist pump from Calipari when he collected a miss by Miller and laid it in to put Kentucky up 13-8.
Though Eziel and Tinsley did their best to keep Vanderbilt in it, the Commodores looked rattled in the charged atmosphere. Vanderbilt turned it over eight times in the half and Jenkins simply couldn't get going.
He was fouled by Lamb on his first 3-point attempt but the Wildcats grew wise after that, failing to bite on Jenkins' pump fakes. He badly missed his other two attempts of the half and Kentucky appeared on its way to a second straight perfect season at Rupp.
The Commodores rallied, but it wasn't enough to keep Harrellson from walking off the court pounding his chest after the final horn as the crowd — some of them wearing the jeans shorts that is Harrellson's off-the-court trademark — roared.