Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Ziegler combined for 34 points and eight 3-pointers, while Tennessee's defense held Kansas to 32 percent shooting in a 64-50 win in the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship game.
Tennessee’s defense started out engaged, holding Kansas to a 1-8 start from the field, and the Vols held a 10-2 lead despite the offense turning it over four times in the first five minutes.
Unfortunately, the Vols offense didn’t take much advantage of Kansas’s cold shooting early. Julian Phillips missed two good looks from beyond the arc and an easy one at the hoop, while the offense continued to play loose with the ball. At around the 11-minute mark, Tennessee led 12-5 despite a 7-5 turnover deficit.
Ziegler broke a three-ish minute scoring drought for UT with his first trey of the evening about a minute later to give the Vols a 15-7 lead. The two teams exchanged a few more turnovers, and Kansas cut the lead to 15-9 when one of those UT giveaways resulted in a run-out layup.
The Jayhawks’ talented freshman Gradey Dick started the game 0-4 from the field and missed his first two tries from deep, but drew Phillips’ second foul on a head-fake on the far side of the floor. Dick made just one of the two free throws, but the sequence sent Phillips to the bench.
Starting around the 7:35 mark, Tennessee turned it over on back-to-back possessions — numbers 11 and 12 for the game — and the Jayhawks turned those two TOs in six points, cutting the Vols’ lead to 17-16.
A Tyreke Key 3 bumped the Vols’ lead back up to four, and Kansas committed its 11th turnover of the game, which UT converted into a Vescovi 3, making it 23-16 Vols with around six minutes left in the half. Vescovi nailed another 3, and the Jayhawks called a timeout in the midst of a three-minute stretch where their only points came from two Jalen Wilson free throws.
Dick hit his first 3 of the game off a Kansas offensive rebound, and then the Jayhawks cut the lead to 28-25 after another run-out layup off another Vols’ giveaway.
The Vols committed 17 first-half turnovers — five of which came from Olivier Nkamhoua — but Tennessee got the last shot and Nkamhoua nailed an open 3 that gave UT a 33-25 lead at halftime.
Kansas started the second half on 6-2 run, and then after basically wasting two shot clocks (the first got bailed out by a kicked ball), Key got an easy two off an offensive board, and Kansas’ starting guard Dajuan Harris picked up his fourth foul. Tennessee led 37-31 with 15:23 left in the game.
Tennessee’s lead ballooned up to nine after back-to-back 3s from Vescovi, but the Jayhawks kept lingering around thanks to eight of their 11 second-half points coming in the paint and a game-long 13-2 advantage in free-throw attempts as of the 12-minute mark.
Five-straight points from Ziegler — the final two of which came off a run-out layup off a Kansas turnover — gave the Vols their largest lead of the game at 50-38 with 10-ish minutes left in the game.
Aidoo slammed home a second-chance dunk, and Vescovi hit one of two FTs to extend Tennessee’s lead to 15. This sequence was notable for a few reasons: it highlighted the Vols’ domination of the glass (UT held a 39-22 rebounding advantage as of the eight-ish-minute mark) and the foul that sent Santi to the line was Harris’ fifth. The Jayhawks normal sub for Harris, Bobby Pettiford, left the game early with a hamstring injury.
Ziegler and Dick exchanged 3s — Dick’s 3 ended a five-plus-minute scoreless stretch for Kansas. Jalen Wilson, basically playing point guard for the Jayhawks, hit a jumper that cut Tennessee’s lead down to 13, and Rick Barnes called a timeout with six minutes remaining. The Vols had nothing out of the time out and turned it over on a Mashack charge,
Kansas entered the bonus with 5:27 left in the game, and two KU FTs cut the lead to 11 (56-45) and capped off a 6-0 run for the Jayhawks. A Ziegler 3 bumped UT’s lead back to 14 with four-ish minutes left.
Key drilled a 3 from the top of the circle that extended Tennessee’s lead to 16 with two-ish minutes left that basically put the game away.
- The Vols turned the ball over seven times in the second half after giving it away 17 times in the first 20 minutes.
- Jonas Aidoo led the team in rebounds and blocks with nine and two, respectively, and he also finished second on the team with three steals. Four of his rebounds came on the offensive glass.
- Vescovi entered the game shooting just 29 percent from deep — tonight he led the team in scoring with 20 and hit five of his 14(!) attempts from beyond the arc.
- Ziegler and Key were the only two other Vols to score in double figures. Zakai had 14 points, three 3-pointers and three assists, while Key had 10 points and two 3s.
- Tennessee led for 38 minutes and 14 seconds of tonight’s game.