Date story was published: Thursday, February 12, 1987
With 1:29 left in the second half last night, many Kentucky fans began a sad walk out of Rupp Arena. Tennessee led 72-65. Ed Davender had just missed a three-point shot. Tennessee's Ron Hausley was about to drive to the hoop for an old-fashioned three-point play.
The departing UK fans should have stayed. They should have remembered Saturday's stirring comeback at Alabama.
Last night's 91-84 overtime victory over Tennessee was even better. Even more improbable.
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"I can't heap enough praise on our ballclub," Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton said. "If we put ourselves under those conditions 10 times, it'd be difficult to pull one out like we did tonight. We'd need help like we got tonight."
Tennessee missed the front end of four one-and-ones in the final 2:12 of regulation. Kentucky also got a break when Tennessee's Tony White was whistled for his fifth foul with 32 seconds remaining.
That call -- bitterly contested by UT coach Don DeVoe -- took away the Vols' best free-thrower (88 percent) as well as scorer (23.1 points per game). White had 16 second-half points.
That set the stage. The rest was up to the Wildcats, who in Sutton's word "believed."
After Hausley's three-point play, Kentucky's comeback kids trailed 75-65 with just 1:13 remaining.
The Vols still led 77-70 with 44 seconds remaining when White made two free throws.
Irv Thomas' rebound basket made it 77-72 with 35 seconds left.
Then it happened.
Trapped with an inbounds pass, White seemed to split the two UK defenders. Then he leaned into Thomas. Whistle. Charging. White's fifth foul. UK ball.
"Not a person in here doesn't understand he was fouled three times before the charging call," DeVoe said in the post-game interview room. "It changed the game. You guys think you know basketball. Tell me what you saw. It was the pivotal call in that stretch."
After the game, DeVoe directed a few words at the referee who made the call, Danny Hooker, before shaking Sutton's hand.
"You've got to be poised and hope ther call doesn't go against you in that situation," DeVoe said. "Tony never put the ball on the floor. He was protecting himself. And he's double-teamed. And he comes out with a charge."
What Sutton saw -- and the play took place in the corner of the court closest to the UK bench -- was a "50-50 deal."
"Tony asked me afterward if it was a foul," Sutton said. "I told him I thought it was a judgment call. There are a lot of judgment calls in a game. Look at the film and you'll see a lot aren't called properly."
Afterward, White remained unconvinced. "It was a touch foul to me," he said. "I didn't do anything but protect the ball."
Thomas saw it differently. "Usually, you take a charge and fall," the UK sophomore said. "What happened was we should have fallen."
With Tennessee's and the Southeastern Conference's leading scorer out of the game, Kentucky's remaining fans could see the light.
Two misses by Tennessee on the front end of the one-and-one helped. After Chapman missed a three-pointer, Doug Roth (64.3 percent from the line) missed the front end, keeping Tennessee's lead at 77-72.
Then Davender canned a three-pointer from the top of the key to draw Kentucky within 77-75 with 13 seconds left.
"A magnificent shot," DeVoe said, "what with all the pressure of the moment."
After two timeouts, Dyron Nix missed the front end of a one-ond-one with 11 seconds left. It was just as Chapman and Davender said they predicted.
What was to follow also went according to their desires.
"I turned to Ed and said, 'He's going to miss,' " Chapman said. "Ed said, 'Do you want to win it tonight? I had my chance Saturday.' "
Davender hit the game winner with six seconds left at Alabama. UK had trailed by six with 1:23 remaining only to win 70-69.
"Coach had told Ed, James (Blackmon) and I that one of us should get the ball and try to get two points," Chapman said. "Forget about the three- pointer."
Chapman said Davender conceded the chance at heroics.
"I had my share the other day," Davender said. "I told Rex, 'I'll get out of your way and let you do your thing.' It takes a lot of guts for a freshman to take that kind of shot."
After Nix's miss, Chapman took the ball from Richard Madison and drove the length of the floor.
"I definitely didn't want him to shoot the three-pointer," DeVoe said. "We've lost a few that way this season. So I was kind of glad to see the penetration."
Waiting for Chapman was Roth, a 6-foot-11 sophomore on top of his game (18 points and 10 rebounds).
Chapman faded to the left of the lane, about 12 feet from the basket, and lifted a soft shot over Roth and off the glass.
It fell through with three seconds left.
That tied it at 77-77.
"When he (Roth) came out on me, I didn't think I could make it," Chapman said. "Then I thought I'd have to or it would ruin our story."
Kentucky ruled the overtime. Blackmon's fast-break slam gave the Cats the lead for good at 81-79.
Another basket by Chapman, a turnaround 18-footer under pressure, made it 83-79 with 1:44 left.
Tennessee, which did not have a basket in the first four minutes of overtime, did not have a miracle to throw back at UK.
The Cats made sure by hitting six of six free throws in the final 52 seconds.
That sealed UK's 15th victory in 21 games. The Cats improved to 8-5 in the SEC.
Tennessee fell to 10-12 and 4-9.
"We're seven plays from being 9-4," DeVoe said. The Vols have lost six SEC games, including two in overtime, by a total of 19 points. "But give Kentucky credit. They made a lot of big plays."
Kentucky seemed in control at halftime. The Cats outscored Tennessee 13-2 in the final 4:31 of the half to take a 39-31 lead at intermission.
Defense and Cedric Jenkins' offensive rebounding led the breakout from what had been a nip-and-tuck first half.
Kentucky's defense forced three straight turnovers in one span, part of a 17-steal night.
Jenkins, who had a one-hand tip-in in UK's 70-69 victory at Alabama Saturday, began a rush of 10 straight points with a similar tip.
Jenkins concluded the rush with another tip-in. He finished with a 11 points and seven rebounds, both seasonal highs.
Until the breakout, Tennessee survived despite White's poor first half. White, the SEC's leading scorer (23.1 points per game), had almost as many turnovers (three) as points (four) in the half. White made just two of seven shots and went the final 10 minutes without a point.
"I knew I hadn't played well (by halftime), but I had 20 more minutes," White said. "Sometimes I know when to take over."
In one second-half stretch, White took the shot in five straight possessions.
He scored six straight points on another stretch, the burst pushed Tennessee ahead 72-65 with 1:58 left.
"We had them where we wanted them," White said.
Then came the comeback.
"This is like a dream," White said of Tennessee's last-second failures.
He meant nightmare.
For Kentucky, the dream continued.