Number 1 Kansas Goes down to depleted Tennesse Team
The loss of four key players helped Tennessee come together as a team. Now No. 1 Kansas is looking to do the same after failing to survive the second of two close games.
Scotty Hopson had 17 points and No. 15 Tennessee, with a lineup thinned by suspensions, dismissals and injuries, handed Kansas its first loss of the season, 76-68 on Sunday night.
“It’s pretty amazing what chemistry can do when guys put their minds to something and know their backs are up against the wall a little bit and they rally, and they don’t quit and they believe in themselves,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.
Kansas’ loss leaves No. 2 Texas and No. 3 Kentucky as the only unbeatens in Division I, and it was the fourth this weekend by a Top Ten team, joining No. 4 Purdue, No. 5 Duke and No. 8 West Virginia.
“The thing I will tell you is this: I don’t know if Tennessee was a team until this past week. I don’t know if Kansas is a team yet,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor stole the ball and dished it to Brady Morningstar, who hit a three-pointer with 1:14 left to cut Tennessee’s lead to 71-68.
Skylar McBee, one of three walk-ons who saw playing time for Tennessee, answered with his own 3 as the shot clock expired.
“McBee’s shot was worth how many hours in the gym?” Pearl said. “When other kids were doing everything else, you could see McBee in the gym practicing all night long. It paid off — the beautiful thing about sports.”
Sherron Collins, who bailed the Jayhawks (14-1) out of a near loss to Cornell on Wednesday with a career-high 33 points, couldn’t help this time, missing three shots before time expired. Collins led Kansas with 22 points.
Kansas couldn’t find its composure in front of 21,936 screaming Tennessee fans at a sold-out Thompson-Boling Arena, which was hosting a No. 1 team for the first time. The Jayhawks turned the ball over 16 times, while Tennessee (12-2) had only eight turnovers.
It was the Vols’ first game after Pearl dismissed Tyler Smith on Friday, a week after the senior was arrested on misdemeanor gun and drug charges. Tennessee was also playing without Cameron Tatum, Melvin Goins and Brian Williams, who were arrested Jan. 1 with Smith.
But Tennessee, who had already lost two players before the season started, played even more short-handed than that. Starters Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince found themselves in foul trouble early and both spent more than half of the game on the bench.
The Vols showed they could play defense even playing three walk-ons and two freshmen. They limited the Jayhawks, who entered the game shooting 51.3% from the field, to an uncharacteristic 37.7%. Tennessee shot 48.1%, the best by a Kansas opponent this season.
Bobby Maze added 16 points for Tennessee, and Renaldo Woolridge had 14 points and eight rebounds playing in place of Smith.
Kansas shut down Tennessee’s game in the paint early until Woolridge hit three consecutive three-pointers — all from the same spot on the court — as part of a 14-2 run by the Vols.
From there the Vols found the lane a little more accessible. Hopson drove to the basket for a layup at the end of the run to give Tennessee a 27-21 lead and control of the game. Tennessee finished with 30 points in the paint compared to Kansas’ 20.
“(Center Cole Aldrich) had the ball three or four times at 2 feet and didn’t shoot it, so obviously he’s not aggressive. The whole team is not,” Self said.
Maze gave Tennessee its first lead with a layup around the much taller Aldrich that made it 23-21 with 5:59 in the first half. Kansas would only lead once more, on an alley-oop dunk by Taylor with 18:03 in the second half that made it 37-36.
Taylor had 13 points, and Xavier Henry added 10. Aldrich grabbed 18 rebounds as Kansas outrebounded Tennessee 42-35.
Kansas entered the game scoring an average 27.6 points more than its opponents and having dominated then-No. 18 Temple, its only other Top 25 opponent, 84-52 on Jan. 2.
“I think every team would love to think that they could (go undefeated), but the reality of it is it’s probably not going to happen,” Aldrich said. “The odds of that happening are far-fetched because in this day and age every team from the top to the bottom is so good.”
Kansas won the only other meeting between the schools with a 92-58 victory at Kansas on Jan. 3, 2009. The Jayhawks dominated that game as Collins and Aldrich combined for 48 points. Smith led the Vols with 21 points and nine rebounds.
It was the second consecutive win for Tennessee over a No. 1 opponent. The Vols last faced the No. 1 team when it won 66-62 at Memphis on Feb. 23, 2008, a win that vaulted them to their first, albeit brief, No. 1 ranking.
And the feeling after beating another top-ranked team just might be enough to keep this Vols squad composed.
“We’re just hungry — ready to go back to the gym,” Woolridge said. “We want to work until we have to scrape each other off the floor just so we can have a feeling like this again.”