Sherron Collins dribbled out of the tunnel, teammates bouncing behind him, and Allen Fieldhouse erupted in a way it hadn’t yet this season.
The outburst itself didn’t provide the first clue that the Allen Fieldhouse streak would grow Saturday afternoon. The way the Tennessee players reacted to it did. They all flashed huge grins, bounced up and down with a little something extra. They came off so self-conscious in doing it. It looked so affected.
It didn’t feel at all like Kevin Durant soaking it all in when he made his one and only appearance in the fieldhouse. That came off like a great performer appreciating a hallowed stage.
Another pregame moment Saturday came off a little less accidental than the author of it seemed to want it to be interpreted. Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl walked down to the Kansas bench to say hello to the coaches. Gee, it turned out the coaches weren’t there yet. Oh well, as long as Pearl was there, he might as well say hello to the slender 6-foot-6 junior in high school who had a seat behind the Kansas bench for the game. You know, shake his hand, show him what a down-to-earth guy you are. The usual, except that it was a bit unusual for a visiting coach to interact in such a way.
Tennessee is among the 20 schools Harrison Barnes of Ames, Iowa, lists on Rivals.com, which ranks him the No. 4 prospect in the Class of 2010 and the top-ranked small forward. If Barnes ever makes a visit to Tennessee, the Volunteers will have a difficult time putting on the sort of show the recruit witnessed Saturday, when Kansas topped the Vols, 92-85.
“Loved the crowd,” Kansas center Cole Aldrich said afterward. “The crowd was great. They came out right from the get-go. We made some shots, and they just kept riding with it. They give us a great boost of energy whenever we hit shots and we do good things on defense.”
Sherron Collins fed off the crowd, and the crowd fed off him. Jimi Hendrix in high tops. That’s the way it’s supposed to work with entertainers and live audiences. But as any observant bar owner can tell you, in this age of interpersonal communication that has gotten so impersonal text messaging has become the preferred method of staying in touch for many, the connection often isn’t quite what it used to be.
It was old-school energy flow Saturday. Collins started the game as if shot out of a cannon, pushing Kansas to a 25-9 lead from which the Vols never quite recovered. Relentless, powerful, so under control on his coast-to-coast drives.
Collins scored 26 points, attempted just 14 shots from the field and dished nine assists, proving he knows how to trust teammates. In the best condition of his life and injury-free, Collins played 36 strong minutes.
“I think the crowd was excellent,” Collins said. “I think they helped us a lot. They were into the game. This was a big game for us. We needed it, and the crowd played a big part in it.”
Trying to “rip the rim down every time I get a chance,” Aldrich stoked the crowd with his power as well.
“The building was juiced,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “The crowd was good. That’s what Allen Fieldhouse is supposed to feel like.”
That’s what Self wants it to feel like Tuesday night against sneakily dangerous Siena, in the final nonconference home game.