LEXINGTON, Ky. — Hands up, legs sprawled out on the Rupp Arena court, Jordan McRae couldn't help but laugh in disbelief.
The senior guard had just battled through three Kentucky defenders on a fast break and failed to get a foul call that would have put McRae at the line with a chance to make it a 7-0 Tennessee run and cut the deficit to just four points with two minutes left.
Moments later, UK applied the finishing touches on another win over its orange-clad rival.
Tennessee executed their game plan early on and dominated No. 13 Kentucky on the boards, but fell victim to a hot-shooting Wildcats squad that ousted the Vols in front of 24,246 at Rupp Arena, 74-66.
"They looked forward to the atmosphere and the stage," UT head coach Cuonzo Martin said after the game. "It wasn't a case of being hesitant and not ready to play. We felt we had an opportunity to come win a ball game against a league opponent.
"We just came up short."
Junior forward Jarnell Stokes' 20 points and 15 rebounds led the Vols (11-6, 2-2 SEC), and helped them to gain a 39-24 advantage on the boards against the SEC's top rebounding team.
But it wasn't enough to overcome a cold outside shooting day. The Vols shot just 2-for-13 from 3-point range, while Kentucky (13-4, 3-1) hit seven of its 16 attempts.
Heading up the lethargic shooting effort was McRae, who added 17 points but shot just 5-for-14, including 1-for-7 from beyond the arc.
"The past couple of games, I've just been missing shots that I normally hit," McRae said. "It's just tough."
The early portion of Saturday's game was all Tennessee. The Vols led by as many as nine, and maintained it for the entire first half before a late 3-pointer by James Young made it 34-32 Kentucky at the break.
But Tennessee's plan to pack the paint and force the UK guards to make plays eventually came back to bite Martin and the Vols.
Extra room on the outside allowed for a career performance from Andrew Harrison. The freshman Kentucky guard scored a career-high 26 points — 16 of which came in the final period.
Kentucky star freshman Julius Randle had 16 of his 18 in the first half, but when the Vols clamped down on him, a shooter was typically left open on the outside.
"We forced (Randle) to pass it out to their wings," McRae said, "but they were just hitting shots today."
"They just knocked down shots when they needed to, and that was the difference in the game."
Stokes thought the second-half letdown had more to do with tempo than anything. He said that a fast pace allowed the Vols to have success early, and losing that pace was the killer.
"We played at their pace," Stokes said. "We didn't play at our pace, and that really hurt us."
Starting point guard Antonio Barton scored just two points on 0-for-4 shooting in 27 minutes. His struggles earned freshman Darius Thompson more playing time down the stretch.
Thompson scored all of his five points in the final 3:05, serving as some late production for a backcourt that failed to meet its match in the second half.
"I just thought Antonio didn't have the flow tonight," Martin said, "especially late in the game, so we gave Darius the opportunity. I thought he came in and did a good job."
But there's no denying what the biggest silver lining is for UT as it heads back to Knoxville.
Stokes dominated a frontcourt that is widely considered as one of the nation's best, making eight of his 12 shots and slicing through Kentucky's defense with impressive post moves. His third — and final, should he make himself eligible for the NBA Draft after the season — visit to Rupp Arena went much better than his first two, which he scored four points apiece in.
"He was aggressive, and he was hungry," Martin said. "And whenever he plays aggressive, he's a totally different basketball player."
Despite Stokes putting on a show for pro basketball scouts, the Vols still left Lexington with another tough loss.
Kentucky won't play UT in Knoxville this year for the first time since 1952-53, so the Vols won't get another crack at John Calipari's crew unless they meet in Atlanta at the SEC Tournament.
That's a possibility McRae is quite confident of.
"I mean, we should play them in Atlanta," he said.