KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Yves Pons scored 17 points and No. 18 Tennessee never trailed Saturday in beating 15th-ranked Kansas 80-61 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
The Volunteers (12-3) won their second straight and notched their second win against a top-15 opponent this season, a much-needed boost to their resume after COVID-19 issues scratched No. 1 Gonzaga, No. 14 Wisconsin and also a trip to Notre Dame.
This was just Tennessee’s second win all-time against Kansas in six games. The Vols now are 5-2 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
Jaden Springer scored 13 for Tennessee, whose only losses have been without the freshman this season. John Fulkerson and Victor Bailey Jr. had 11 apiece, and Josiah Jordan-James had nine points and 11 rebounds.
Kansas (11-6) has lost four of five and dropped to 4-4 against ranked opponents this season. The Jayhawks dropped to 5-3 in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.
David McCormack led the Jayhawks with 17 points, Marcus Garrett added 15 and Jalen Wilson had 10.
Keon Johnson opened the scoring with a jumper and Santiago Vescovi added a 3 as Tennessee grabbed the lead from the start. Kansas missed its first three shots and had a shot clock violation before McCormack hit a short jumper with 16:51 left for the Jayhawks’ first points.
McCormack scored six of Kansas’ first eight points, pulling them within 9-8 with 14:47 left. That was as close as the Jayhawks would get.
Tennessee shot the ball very well, and a Vols defense ranked sixth in the NCAA in scoring defense, allowing just 59.3 points a game, made the Jayhawks work for every point. Kansas shot only 7 of 26 through the first 20 minutes and kept from being blown out by hitting 11 of 12 at the free throw line.
The Vols led by as much as 16 in the first half inside the final minute before Tyon Grant-Foster’s layup pulled Kansas within 40-26 at halftime.
The Jayhawks tried to make a run to start the second half with Ochai Abgaji scoring back-to-back buckets to pull them within 47-35. Tennessee answered by scoring the next nine points and built the lead up to as much as 26 on a pair of free throws by Springer at 71-45 with 7:24 remaining.
Kansas: This won’t help the Jayhawks burnish their own resume for postseason play, and there’s still a trip to Texas, which beat them by 25 on Jan. 2, and another game against No. 2 Baylor left in conference play. … The Jayhawks have to work on their shooting. They wound up going 6 of 24 outside the arc and just 15 of 22 at the free throw line.
Tennessee: The Vols have proven they can play stingy defense, and they dominated on the boards 38-23, scoring 14 second-chance points. This game showed why they were picked to win the SEC title this season by putting together an impressive offensive performance. They shot 52.8% (28 of 53) and 8 of 13 from 3 (61.5%) and 16 of 17 at the line.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes now has 721 career victories. He came into this game as the seventh-winningest active coach in Division I, just ahead of Bill Self with 719. Barnes also notched his eighth head-to-head win over Self, most of any coach. Tom Izzo of Michigan State has seven wins over Self.
Kansas hosts Kansas State on Tuesday night.
Tennessee visits Ole Miss on Tuesday night.
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