KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The loss of four key players helped Tennessee come together as a team. Now No. 1 Kansas is looking to do the same after failing to survive the second of two close games.
Scotty Hopson had 17 points and No. 16 Tennessee, with a lineup thinned by suspensions, dismissals and injuries, handed Kansas its first loss of the season, 76-68 on Sunday night.
“It’s pretty amazing what chemistry can do when guys put their minds to something and know their backs are up against the wall a little bit and they rally, and they don’t quit and they believe in themselves,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said.
Kansas’ loss leaves No. 2 Texas and No. 3 Kentucky as the only unbeatens in Division I, and it was the fourth this weekend by a Top 10 team, joining No. 4 Purdue, No. 5 Duke and No. 8 West Virginia.
“The thing I will tell you is this: I don’t know if Tennessee was a team until this past week. I don’t know if Kansas is a team yet,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.
Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor stole the ball and dished it to Brady Morningstar, who hit a 3-pointer with 1:14 left to cut Tennessee’s lead to 71-68.
Skylar McBee, one of three walk-ons who saw playing time for Tennessee, answered with his own 3 as the shot clock expired.
Sherron Collins, who bailed the Jayhawks (14-1) out of a near loss to Cornell on Wednesday with a career-high 33 points, couldn’t help this time, missing three shots before time expired. Collins led Kansas with 22 points.
Kansas couldn’t find its composure in front of 21,936 screaming Tennessee fans at a sold-out Thompson-Boling Arena, which was hosting a No. 1 team for the first time. The Jayhawks turned the ball over 16 times, while Tennessee (12-2) had only eight turnovers.
It was the Vols’ first game after Pearl dismissed Tyler Smith on Friday, a week after the senior was arrested on misdemeanor gun and drug charges. Tennessee was also playing without Cameron Tatum, Melvin Goins and Brian Williams, who were arrested Jan. 1 with Smith.
The Vols showed they could play defense even playing three walk-ons and two freshmen. They limited the Jayhawks, who entered the game shooting 51.3 percent from the field, to 37.7 percent. Tennessee shot 48.1 percent.
Bobby Maze added 16 points for Tennessee, and Renaldo Woolridge had 14 points and eight rebounds playing in place of Smith.