Nothing went right for the Jayhawks, but a lot of that was because of how well the Vols played. Yves Pons, for instance, led the team with 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting that included a perfect 2-of-2 from 3-point range.
A lethal Tennessee offense mixed with a strong defense completely stymied Kansas to the point where not only did Tennessee notch its biggest win of the year, but the Vols led wire-to-wire in doing so.
Pons and Santiago Vescovi scored on back-to-back possessions to give Tennessee an early 5-0 lead. A David McCormack layup made it a 5-2 game, but Vescovi answered right back with a jumper to extend Tennessee’s lead back out to five points. Tennessee was off to a good start offensively. The Vols were 3-of-4 from the field as they led, 7-2, with 16:26 left in the first half.
But the Jayhawks were able to chip away at the lead. A couple of free throws and back-to-back shots made it a 9-8 game, but Tennessee proceeded to go on an 8-0 run over the next three possessions. Pons originally hit a 3 to quell Kansas’ initial run, John Fulkerson hit a jumper, and then Josiah Jordan-James made a 3 of his own to put Tennessee up, 17-8. The Jayhawks were really struggling at this point, evidenced by their 3-of-15 mark from the field. Tennessee on the other hand, was 7-of-11 through the first 9:00 of the first half.
Mitch Lightfoot ended Tennessee’s run shortly after, but Olivier Nkamhoua immediately kept Tennessee’s lead at nine with his first bucket of the game. Good hustle led to a James offensive rebound which then led to another Nkamhoua bucket to put the Vols up, 21-10, with 9:47 to go in the first half. The Jayhawks had scored just two points over the last 4:00 of play.
Kansas crept back within six, but excellent offensive play saw the Vols build a 40-26 before halftime. Tennessee was shooting a healthy 58.6 percent from the field that included a 5-of-7 mark from downtown. The Vols had also outrebounded the Hawks, 20-10, and had 20 points in the paint compared to Kansas’ eight points in the paint. The most interesting part about Tennessee’s lead was the fact that they only had one free throw attempt during the first 20:00 of the game.
If there was one blemish for Tennessee, it was the seven turnovers that led to 12 Kansas points. All the Vols had to do was clean up the mistakes and they would leave Thompson-Boling with a win over a top-15 team.
Nothing changed to open the second half. Kansas was still dreadful on offense and the Vols were still efficient on offense. And let’s not take anything away from Tennessee’s defense, here. The unit was playing well. But the Jayhawks’ offense was also playing very, very poorly.
Regardless, the Vols were able to go up, 56-35, with 14:51 left in the game. Tennessee’s offense was rolling, having made five straight shots. Pons, in particular, was having a great night with a team-leading 15 points at the time.
Kansas would never get anywhere close to challenging Tennessee in this game. The Vols would go on to win, 80-61. Tennessee finished 28-of-53 from the floor, including 8-of-13 from downtown. Kansas finished 20-of-53, including 6-of- 24 from beyond the arc.
Tennessee is now set to take on the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford, Mississippi. Tipoff is set for 7PM EST on Tuesday, February 2.
You can check out the final score and stats here.