Will and I both made the case this week that the Vols could find themselves realistically talking about the NCAA tournament on the other side of today’s game.
Survey says? Fire up the hype machine.
Grant Williams had 17, Jordan Bowden scored 13, and Kyle Alexander pitched in 6 offensive rebounds to lead a balanced Tennessee attack to a 70-58 victory over Kansas State on Saturday afternoon.
The theme of the first half was offensive rebounds (9 of them led to 13 UT points), and Kyle Alexander set the tone early. Up 6-2, Alexander boarded and put back a Bone miss. On the Vols next trip down the floor, he came up with 2 rebounds to keep the play alive, and Jordan Bowden paid it off.
Offensive rebounds helped the Vols accomplish a rare feat later in the first half: a 6-point possession. Up 18-11, Jordan Bone missed a wide-open layup, but Alexander grabbed the board and was fouled on a layup. He made the first free throw and missed the second, but Hubbs grabbed the board. Bone got into the lane, hit a jumper, and got fouled. He couldn’t complete the three-point play, but Bone tracked down his own miss. Jordan Bowden hit a 3 later in the trip, and the Vols led 24-11.
Kansas State would cut it to 26-20, but Williams and Hubbs stemmed the tide to push it back to double digits at the under 4. After a Wildcat basket, Tennessee scored the last 9 of the first half - including a somewhat comical 3-pointer from Lew Evans at the expiration of the shot clock - to take a 39-22 lead into the locker room.
The Manhattan Wildcats didn’t go quietly, though. After going 0/6 from deep in the first half, Kansas State hit 5 of them in the first 5 minutes of the 2nd half to cut into the lead. Grant Williams responded with 8 points in the first 3 minutes to keep the Vols afloat as Kansas State found their rhythm.
A couple of extended Tennessee droughts kept the Wildcats in it. After Hubbs put UT up 51-34, Kansas State went on a 7-0 run over the next 3 minutes to cut it to 10. Tennessee pushed it back to 14, before another long dry spell of 5:20 between field goals. Kansas State would cut it to 9, but could get no closer. A Grant Williams put back off an offensive rebound and a Lew Evans transition dunk made it 64-50 with 5 minutes left to polish it off.
The Vols move to 12-9 on the season with their 2nd win over some version of the Wildcats in 5 days (and as of this typing, #40 in RPI and appearing in 9 brackets before today’s win...). Kansas State falls to 15-6, but we’ll obviously be cheering for them to continue their solid run of Big 12 play from here on out.
It’s been a great week, and we should laud the team for that. Every win from here on out makes the next one that much more meaningful.
To that end, the next biggest game of the season takes place Tuesday night on the Plains when the Vols face our favorite, former, sweaty savant of barbecue, Bruce Pearl, and the Auburn Tigers at 8PM EST on the SEC Network.