Tennessee defeats Kansas, 80-61

  • 5 p.m., Jan. 30, 2021
  • Thompson-Boling Arena (Knoxville, Tenn.),

Saturday, January 30, 2021

No. 15 Kansas clobbered by No. 18 Tennessee in 80-61 road loss

Tennessee forward Olivier Nkamhoua (13) shoots the ball over Kansas guard Tyon Grant-Foster (1) during a basketball game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Kansas Jayhawks at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee on Saturday, January 30, 2021.

Tennessee forward Olivier Nkamhoua (13) shoots the ball over Kansas guard Tyon Grant-Foster (1) during a basketball game between the Tennessee Volunteers and the Kansas Jayhawks at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tennessee on Saturday, January 30, 2021.


The 15th-ranked Kansas basketball team dropped its fourth consecutive road game on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn., falling to No. 18 Tennessee, 80-61, in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.

The Jayhawks (11-6 overall, 5-4 Big 12) trailed by 14 points at halftime, fell behind by 26 in the second half (66-41) and were never really in the game.

The Kansas offense opened with yet another slow start, missing five of its first six shots, while Tennessee hit three of its first four to build an early 7-2 lead.

Things only got worse from there for the Jayhawks, who missed their first eight shots from 3-point range. Leading scorer Ochai Agbaji missed four triples in the game’s first nine minutes and was 1-of-9 from the outside on the night, and KU hit just three of its first 15 shots overall, with all three makes coming from junior forward David McCormack, who finished with 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

“The last two games, it’s been hard to watch, offensively,” discouraged Kansas coach Bill Self said after the loss. “Against TCU we had 18 and tonight we (had) 26 at halftime. That’s not a way to start a basketball game.”

Despite his struggles, Agbaji kept shooting and finally got one to fall at the 6:02 mark of the first half. Agbaji’s 3-pointer actually pulled the Jayhawks within six (23-17) at the time, but Tennessee quickly pushed the lead back to 10 with back-to-back buckets and never looked back.

The Volunteers (12-3 overall, 5-3 SEC) shot 53% for the game, including 62% (8-of-13) from 3-point range. Kansas, meanwhile, shot 38% and made just six of 24 3-pointers, most coming after a 2-of-17 start from behind the arc.

“I think there’s definitely frustration,” KU big man David McCormack said of the mindset of the team after its latest loss, their fourth in five games.

McCormack pointed to KU’s need to start faster, execute intangibles better and bring more energy to the court as the biggest areas the Jayhawks needed to improve right now.

When asked if he knew why those elements were missing, McCormack said simply, “We’re in the process of figuring that out, honestly.”

Even KU’s best plays went awry on Saturday. There was no better example of that than midway through the second half when senior forward Mitch Lightfoot grabbed an offensive rebound and tried to throw the ball off the man guarding him before falling out of bounds.

The heady play worked, but the ball brushed off of Lightfoot, who was standing out of bounds, before falling to the floor.

There were far more moments where Tennessee made the Jayhawks look bad in this one, though.

Sure, the Volunteers were red hot from 3-point range throughout the game, and, yeah, Tennessee, had better flow and a stronger presence in the paint. But Rick Barnes’ team also clearly won the hustle game, as well.

Late in the first half, after McCormack sprinted across the lane to join Agbaji in a double team of Tennessee’s Jaden Springer, Springer simply flipped the ball up toward the rim to Tennessee big man John Fulkerson (11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) for an easy alley-oop that left McCormack standing flat-footed with his palms facing upward.

Early in the second half, it was Springer (13 points, 4 rebounds) who was on the giving end of an alley-oop, chasing down a long rebound between three Jayhawks and immediately flipping the ball to Yves Pons (17, 5) for the easy alley-oop lay-in that put the Vols up 45-28.

“I'm not going to get hung up on the shooting stuff,” Self said after the loss. “I'm more hung up on the plays that impact us winning as a group than if a guy just makes shots.”

Despite its dreadful shooting, Kansas scored the first bucket of the second half and cut the Tennessee lead down to 12 with plenty of time remaining. Less than five minutes later, however, the Vols led 56-35 and had squashed any hope Kansas had of climbing back into the game.

Self said the ice cold start completely changed his team’s approach because the Jayhawks started pressing and feeling the frustration of every miss more than he hoped they would.

The plan, Self said, was for KU to head south after Thursday’s win over TCU, play hard and with free minds and let it fly.

“I guess when I said let it fly, I (should’ve said) to let it fly and make a few of them,” Self said. “But that certainly wasn't the case.”

KU’s lineup featured a couple of tweaks. Redshirt freshman point guard Dajuan Harris joined KU’s regular starters in place of Jalen Wilson, who came off the bench. And Harris and junior Tyon Grant-Foster started the second half for the second game in a row.

Neither player did much to impact the game or reverse KU’s fortunes. And Self was just as happy to give credit to Tennessee for that as he was to crush his own kids.

“I think the biggest takeaway that I'll have is that we were bad and Tennessee was great,” Self said. “I don't think we did anything to make them play poorly, and I think they did a lot of things to make us play poorly.”

So much so that it took Self less than 30 minutes to express that he was ready for his team to get back to Big 12 Conference play on Tuesday night at home against Kansas State. That one is slated for 7 p.m. at Allen Fieldhouse on ESPN+.

The hope, Self said, was that his guys will regroup during the next couple of days “and be our best then.”

“I may not even watch this (game),” Self added.


Adam Bengtson 3 weeks, 4 days ago

If anyone on this site writes an article involving players on this team and NBA draft.....revoke your own credentials.

Braun needs to stay on the bench. Garrett might be one of the only players at KU in recent memory to have his legacy go backwards in his senior season. Wilson needs to look in the dictionary at the word “adjustment”. Grant-foster reminds me of kid at YMCA who thinks he can drive every play and passing is the 6th option. Trying to figure out what Harris did in his redshirt season. Bill self needs to find out why 1st half seems to be a contest of how big of a hole can we get into.

McCormick seems to have figured it out. Lightfoot doing what he suppose to. Whoever thought we would say what is wrong with the guards?

Very close to surpassing as worse team under Bill Self.

Eliott Reeder 3 weeks, 4 days ago

McCormack has figured out how to score in the post but he still only got 2 freaking rebounds in 33 minutes. Biggest guy out there, shooting over the top of everyone. 2 boards. 33 minutes. Unbelievable.

Benjamin Shear 3 weeks, 4 days ago

This is because of two reasons. First, he is very concerned about getting back in time to play D because he's the only one in the lane. He's also slow. Second, our team chucks up 3s that clang off the rim and get rebounded by guards.

Bryce Landon 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Marcus Garrett's senior season is shaping up like Elijah Johnson; remember how that guy regressed in his senior year and cost us the Sweet 16 game against Michigan.

Bob Thompson 3 weeks, 4 days ago

The only thing worse than our loss was listing to Dick Vitale talk about everything except the game we were watching.

Benjamin Shear 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I literally groaned out loud when I realized he was calling the game.

Eliott Reeder 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Out-rebounded by 15 and shot 6-24 from three. All the indication you need that a team is being out-hustled and selfish. Settling for easy shots instead of running an offense. It may have SEEMED like Tennessee hit a million threes, but they didn't (8-13) they were just efficient. And they hustled. This KU squad consistently looks confused about when they are supposed to rotate or make cuts. They don't close out hard on shooters. They don't box out. They simply don't play with any passion.

Bryce Landon 3 weeks, 4 days ago

They had all the passion sucked out of them by the Longhorns on January 2 - at least, that's how it looks to me.

Benjamin Shear 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I'm dreading playing Texas and Baylor back to back. It might be a very dark week for KU basketball.

Bryce Landon 3 weeks, 4 days ago

“I think there’s definitely frustration,” KU big man David McCormack said of the mindset of the team after its latest loss, their fourth in five games.

Really, David? Because we the fans are beyond frustrated; we're losing our damn minds that you guys have lost five of your last eight games and have looked god-awful in all but one of them (the 29-point win at TCU) and are showing no signs of getting better. I'm still waiting for a report that you guys had a players-only meeting; but for that to happen would require one of you to step up as team leader and call the meeting in the first place - which apparently none of you has the stones to do.

Allin Herring 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Anyone have a,contact with an NBA team you can hook Self up with?

Steve Zimmerman 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Still nothing changed in your offense, coach. I don't expect this will change with the next season's lineup either because you think feeding Sidney will put you again on the throne of B12. What's the use of getting athletic recruits, now they can't really think of creating their own offense. Just weaving around, it's either hit a 3 or force their way to the basket in a predictable manner. There's no freakin' offense whatsoever. Don't even call that offense. Feeding low-post is not going to win many games, been telling you for years. What's the excuse this time? Kids are tired? Still think they need to tighten their defense? You can tell how good these basketball teams: Missouri (yep, they'll feast on us now), Florida, heck Tennessee is not even that good compared the prior two. But look at how they run their offense. Lots of moving pieces, meaningful ones plus the players shooting jumpers, cutting, screening, dunking to the basket.

Steve Zimmerman 3 weeks, 4 days ago

" I think they did a lot of things to make us play poorly.” - errrr.... to tell you the truth, coach, make it 5 teams now? What's consistent here is, you have poor offense strategy. Period.

Tony Bandle 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Random Thoughts:

1] This may be the first time in 30 years or so that I am surprised when KU actually wins a game.

2] Losing Dok, Devonte, Moss and Sivio made more of a dent, not only in our scoring but also our psyche.

3] The truth is we hit the threes, we win...we don't hit the threes, we lose. We can't stop anyone in man on man defense, we can't rebound and we can't steal the ball.

4] Is boxing out for rebounds now considered a mortal sin??

5] Well, at least our record is better than UK, UNC, Duke and Michigan State.

6] i know we Jayhawks have been spoiled by continued excellence, but damn, this just sucks!!!

Barry Weiss 3 weeks, 4 days ago

That was ugly. In defense of Marcus, I just think this move to point is not a good fit for him and his skill set. Its almost time to bail on this season and start playing and preparing the players who may start next year. Hopefully some top recruits will see that they could come in and start immediately. This 4 guard system is not effective unless they are all fairly elite. Clearly we don't have that. We sorely need some bigs. Every team knows to go downhill on us and we get clobbered. I'd also consider a zone at this point to try to protect the lane, we get pummeled there. ugh.

Mallory Briggans 3 weeks, 4 days ago

who would think K-State and Iowa State has Kansas circled on their calendar ......The bully of the Big12 keeps getting punched in the mouth .............and nobody in the league is feeling sorry for the Jayhawks ....................NO ONE !........The North Dakota State game was a bigger barometer than we thought at the time. This team is what it is......The Jayhawks are riding the Struggle Bus and Bill Self is the bus driver

Jerry Walker 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Lots of great comments about our woeful offense.

Our defense? Have you ever seen more players standing up with straight legs and watching when defending off the ball? That makes them a step slow in preventing offensive moves. That's a lack of effort.

Steve Zimmerman 3 weeks, 3 days ago

First you coach kids how to attack the basket, once they get a hang out of it, Defense will come naturally. They'll want the ball more because they know how it feels to make a basket. That's GOOD basketball, IMHO.

Andy Godwin 3 weeks, 4 days ago

There are a few elite teams and many more average teams in college basketball. KU is an average team and will likely finish either 5, 6, or 7th in the Big 12, so yes Self’s worst team by far. The talent in the country is more evenly spread and with this transfer portal and no sitting out a year, it is harder for coaches to develop young talent if they are not rewarded immediately. As stated prior, KU is one of the not so good blue-bloods this year and will now drop out of the top 25 for the first time in forever. They have no elite players. They might have a few good college players, but no one who can create their own shot or dominate the game. Recruiting has hurt this program and there is no indication that KU will battling for a championship anytime soon. Not to seem like a fare weather fan, but KU sports does not hold the same level of passion in this time of National and global turmoil. Message to the players, get your college degree.

Benjamin Shear 3 weeks, 4 days ago

Well, I've figured this team out. If we get hot from 3 point range, we can win. If we shoot below average from 3 we will struggle and likely lose. If we can't find the bottom of the basket from 3, like in this game, we get run out of the gym.

KU doesn't defend against the 3 well, and they don't defend particularly well against drivers and fast breaks. In fact, this team has no real identity other than hoping Garrett, Ogbaji, and Braun can make 3s.

This far in the season, all the other teams have figured this out as well. They just contest our 3 point shot and they win. It's really that simple.

Now that the scouting report on KU is out, it's no longer a secret that we are an average team. Sure, if we get hot, we are gonna win more games. And I expect that they will still fight and compete. But let's set our expectations realistically. We will finish middle of the Big 12, and be a 5 or 6 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Matt Gauntt 3 weeks, 4 days ago

As much as I find Dick Vitale annoying, he did bring up a really good point - recruiting. He mentioned the NCAA investigation hanging over our heads. He's right. We used to have 1-2 5-star recruits and a couple 4-star recruits. Last couple years it has been a couple 4-star recruits and some 3 star recruits. The only player we have right now that was a 5-star recruit is Bryce Thompson and he's been injured. Kentucky, Duke, UCLA, Michigan State, Baylor...they all have 5-star recruits for 2021. We don't have any. We rank 23rd in the 2021 recruiting class. Yes, I know Rivals rankings are questionable at times, but it is at least telling. We aren't going to get past this until the drip-drip-drip from the NCAA is done.

Michael Leiker 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I really worry where this athletic department turns if tickets sales are still down next year. I hope Long is developing a plan to shave some $$ from the budget and starting to move on that plan sooner rather than later. Sure seems like a few dark years coming.

Keith Gellar 3 weeks, 4 days ago

someone brought this up in one of the messageboards - has bill self given up? he seems much more laid back and doesn't get worked up on the sidelines. Could it be that he knows probation is coming? Not sure what to make of it, but where there's smoke there's fire.

Benjamin Shear 3 weeks, 3 days ago

I don't think he has "given up". He's a competitor and always have been. I think he is a realist. Maybe it would be better for him to show some of that Les Miles optimism?

Steve Zimmerman 3 weeks, 4 days ago

I wish David & Mitch (or Jalen & Enaruna, you pick...) are like these guys - that's how I perceived Jayhawk basketball at first (espn):

_For Mayer, however, the dunk also helped him gain the edge over teammate and All-America candidate Jared Butler -- who missed the 3-pointer that led to Mayer's flush -- in their running competition to see who can get the most dunks this year.

"Me and [Butler] have a competition on who can get the most dunks".. said Meyer, BU's bench player... _

and here we're talking who should be playing, who should be on bench... none can even dunk more than 1 time..

Chad Smith 3 weeks, 2 days ago

It's a dark time in KU basketball history. I've tried to maintain optimism, but they just don't have it this year and they don't have the elite flashy players that they've had in the past. And when they didn't have the mass talent, they had effort, defense, and leadership to make up for it ( think 2012 final four team, yes they had T-Rob, but he was surrounded by no other NBA level talent and they still won)

I always have to catch myself though. Because I live in Minnesota ( grew up in KS until age 10) and have watched the gophers basketball program basically have 3 decades of mediocrity with nothing even resembling a successful season except for the 1996-97 team that was cheating the whole time, so that doesn't count.

KU has been spoiled with consistency but the allegations have started a precipitous downfall. I hope it doesn't last long. They need to get back to having more pride on the defensive end of the court. I don't recognize this team right now and feel like they just aren't good. But that's probably what it feels like for most other college basketball programs most of the time.

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