KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin couldn't resist a chance to break out the Volunteers' newest weapon against their most bitter rival.
Highly touted forward Jarnell Stokes, who graduated from high school a semester early, made his collegiate debut against No. 2 Kentucky five days after participating in his first practice with the Vols. Stokes proved tough for the Wildcats to defend but wasn't enough to keep Tennessee from losing 65-62 on Saturday.
"I think it was really him being hungry to play, and I thought the time was right to put him in," Martin said. "I just told him, 'If there's one guy, shoot the ball. If there's two guys, a double-team, pass the ball. If it's one-on-one, make plays.'"
Stokes finished 4 of 5 from the field and had nine points and four rebounds in 17 minutes. With Stokes joining Jeronne Maymon and Kenny Hall on the blocks, Tennessee took its chances by running right at the nation's leading shot-blocking team and locking down the lane on defense.
Maymon converted a three-point play with 3:09 in the first half, and he and Cameron Tatum hit 3 of 4 from the free throw line over a 30-second stretch. Stokes drew a charge by Marquis Teague, which enfuriated Kentucky coach John Calipari, who was tagged with a technical foul arguing the call.
Tatum hit one of the free throws awarded to Tennessee, who retained possession because of the technical. Stokes rebounded a missed shot and hit a layup to give the Vols their 34-28 halftime lead and send the fans into a frenzy.
"Coach really prepared me for it," Stokes said. "I was just playing for my team and the state of Tennessee. It was definitely different. There was a lot of adrenaline going, but that's how I'll continue to play."
Tatum led the Volunteers (8-9, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) with 16 points, and Maymon had 15 points and 10 rebounds.
The Wildcats, who had only trailed at halftime three times this season, were more patient with their shots in the second half and turned up the defensive heat to wear down Tennessee. The Vols entered the noon game on a quick turnaround, having lost 62-58 at No. 20 Mississippi State on Thursday after a 9 p.m. tipoff.
Kentucky shot 50 percent after halftime and limited Tennessee to 39.3 percent. The Wildcats also got their only two 3s of the game in the second half, one by Kyle Wiltjer and another from Kidd-Gilchrist.
The Wildcats (17-1, 3-0) not only came from behind in the second half, but also held off a late effort by the Vols, who had upset then-No. 13 Florida the previous Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Calipari wasn't thrilled about having to do either.
"If we want to be unique and special, we're either going to get tougher and negate the physical play people are using on us, or we're just going to be another team out there trying to win as many as we can. That's it. We talk better today, but we still need to execute better."
Davis capped an 8-0 run with a short jumper to give Kentucky a 62-54 lead with 53 seconds left.
Skylar McBee hit a 3-pointer for the Vols. After a timeout, Maymon fouled Kentucky's Doron Lamb, who missed the front end of a 1-and-1. Tatum hit another 3 to cut the Wildcats' margin to 62-60 with 28 seconds left.
Darius Miller hit two free throws and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist added another in the final 20 seconds. Tatum attempted another 3 with 10 seconds left, but the ball bounced off the rim to end the Vols' hopes for a comeback.
Davis had four blocks to pull within one of tying the school record of 83.
The win marked Kentucky's second SEC road victory of the season, matching its total for all of last year. The Wildcats also won in Knoxville in 2011 and have won four straight against the Vols.
"We have a will to win," Davis said. "We're a great ball club. You know we never give up. When we are down like 10 with a couple of minutes left we just kept fighting. We don't like losing."