T is for Tennessee, toughness, threes and tournament title. Hang the flag high.
The Volunteers were at least terrific on defense. They dominated as rebounders. They hit 12 of 27 three-point shots and won the Battle 4 Atlantis over Kansas, 64-50. That ended the defending national champions’ 17-game winning streak.
This was the most beautiful ugly game of the young season. Tennessee had 17 turnovers in the first half. The Vols were much better after the Rick Barnes pep talk. They lost the ball only seven times after intermission.
Surprisingly, they were more accurate from behind the three-point line (44.4) than from closer range (41.5).
The net result was one of the biggest victories of the Barnes’ era. Depth was the difference. Three wins in three days was the payoff for reserves who can actually play. They contributed energy and 21 points! Jonas Aidoo led with nine rebounds.
Even without Josiah-Jordan James, the Vols were still running in high gear when the Jayhawks grew weary of it all.
“What we did in three days is physically difficult,” said Barnes. “I am so proud of the mental toughness. Rebounding is a mindset.”
The coach said he told the Vols that “You proved a lot here but we can get better – at least on offense.”
Tennessee knocked out Butler and Southern Cal before Kansas. Their combined shooting percentage was 36.9.
Santiago Vescovi set the point pace in the finals with 20 – including five threes. He also had six rebounds and was tournament MVP. Zakai Zeigler scored 14 (three threes) and Tyreke Key had 10 points (two threes). Aidoo and Olivier Nkamhoua had one three each.
Tennessee led all the way. Vescovi got three early threes. A surprising number of Vol fans raised the roof in celebration. A rented band learned to play Rocky Top.
Barnes offered Vescovi insight.
“He gets every team’s best defender. Everybody tries to guard him.”
Zeigler provided a new explanation of the defense.
“We like to play defense and we just happen to be good at it.”
OK, so Barnes is the inspiration.
Several Jayhawks got an up-close view of Vol defenders.
Kansas forward Jalen Wilson and guard Gradey Dick came in averaging 24.3 and 16.8 points. They combined for 21. Wilson hit three of 15. Dick made two of eight. Kansas connected on 32.1 percent.
The Jayhawks were handicapped by the early loss of Dajuan Harris. He fouled out after 18 minutes of play. One of his problems was trying to stay in front of Ziggy.
“We played a team that was older and more mature and obviously played stronger and tougher,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “We didn’t handle the situation near as well as what I would hope a poised team would.”
Barnes found a strange application for the word “respect.”
“I have great respect for Bill Self and what he’s done at that program. Everyone knows it’s one of the great programs in the country and I’ve watched Bill do his part with it. He’s a friend and a guy that I have great respect for.”
I have less. He was caught on the FBI wire-tap two years ago bragging about recruiting violations. Kansas suspended him for four games early this season with hopes of reducing the forthcoming NCAA penalty.
Tennessee gets two days off. It will play McNeese State at Thompson Boling on Wednesday. Tipoff is set for 7:15 p.m. SEC Network will have the game.
Marvin West welcomes reader comments or questions. His address is [email protected].