The game was tied 62-62 with 6:49 to play but the talented Jayhawks finished the game on a 20-5 run to move their record to 4-1 and advance to Sunday’s 1 o’clock Classic title game. Tennessee, now 2-2, faces Marquette Sunday at 3:30 for third place.
Kansas appeared to have Friday’s game in hand when it expanded a 40-33 intermission lead to 53-40 four minutes into the second half. A pair of Detrick Mostella 3-pointers fueled a 13-1 spurt that pulled Tennessee within a point (53-54) with 12:15 to play, however, then two Armani Moore free throws tied the score at 62 a few minutes later.
Down 64-62, the Vols got careless. Back-to-back turnovers set up a Cliff Alexander three-point play and a pair of Wayne Selden free throws as the deficit swelled to 69-62. Kansas’ Perry Ellis scored seven points in the final three minutes – fouling out Vol posts Jabari McGhee (2:56 left) and Willie Carmichael (1:03 left) in the process.
Tennessee shot a solid 44.4 percent (24 of 54) from the field and a decent 33.3 percent (6 of 18) from 3-point range but struggled at the foul line (13 of 23) and got killed on the backboards. Kansas outrebounded the Vols 44-22. In fact, the Jayhawks got nearly as many offensive rebounds (18) as the Vols got total rebounds. Kansas converted those offensive rebounds into 18 second-chance points.
Speaking on the post-game show, Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall noted that “We talked about it the last 24 hours: This game would be about rebounding the basketball. Their front line is so big and so physical. They have great depth on their front line. We knew we’d have to block out – get a body on people – and we just didn’t do that. To Kansas’ credit, they’re going to do that to a lot of people this year.”
Except for the rebound margin, the Vol boss was reasonably pleased with the effort.
“Ten turnovers, I can live with that,” he said. “We forced 16 turnovers against a good, efficient offensive team. I can live with that. But we’ve got to rebound the ball.”
Ellis, a 6-foot-8, 225-pounder, led Kansas with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
“He’ll be a first-round pick,” Tyndall said. “The thing that separates him from a lot of bigs is that he plays like a wing player in there. He can shoot it, he can handle it, he can pass it.”
Cliff Alexander, a 6-foot-8, 240-pounder, came off the Jayhawk bench to add 16 points. He and Ellis combined to sink 11 of 22 field goal tries and 17 of 21 free throws. They also combined for 7 offensive rebounds.
Josh Richardson led Tennessee in points (16) and rebounds (5). Backcourt mate Kevin Punter had a very efficient game, hitting 6 of 9 shots en route to 14 points. Reserve guard Mostella added 13 off the bench.
Tennessee showed a lot of grit in rallying from a 13-point second-half deficit to tie the game but didn’t show a lot of poise from that point to the final horn.
“I’m happy with the way they competed,” Tyndall said. “I’m not totally happy with the way we finished the game, obviously.”
The fact Tennessee played America’s 11th-ranked team even through 34 minutes suggests the Vols are better than gloomy preseason forecasts projected. Still, Tyndall isn’t content with losing competitively.
“I know what the expectations are with this team,” he said. “I know where this team is picked (13th out of 14 SEC programs) but I’ve never bought into that (preseason polls) anywhere I’ve coached. The bottom line is, we can’t be happy to play these guys tough.
“I understand we got some positives that will come out of this game but we wanted to win this game. We wanted to win the VCU game. Now those are two top-10 teams that we understand (represent) an uphill battle but I don’t want our guys being good with moral victories.”