No. 18 Tennessee rolled to a dominating 80-61 win over No. 15 Kansas on Saturday night inside of Thompson-Boling Arena, securing the SEC a 5-4 win in the annual SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
The Vols (12-3) led for 38 of the 40 minutes after Keon Johnson got them on the board with a jumper in the lane. Tennessee never trailed Kansas (11-6) and led by as many as 26, when it was up 71-45 with 7:24 remaining in the game.
Senior forward Yves Pons led the charge for Tennessee. Pons had 17 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, which tied the game-high for points with Kansas’ David McCormack. Pons knocked down both of his three-point attempts and grabbed five rebounds, two of which were on the offensive glass.
Tennessee’s flying frenchmen was one of four players to score double-figures. Jaden Springer had 13 points on 3-of-7 shooting to go along with four rebounds, three assists and a steal. John Fulkerson and Victor Bailey Jr. each had 11 points apiece.
Springer was one of two true freshman to start against the Jayhawks. Rick Barnes made the decision to start Springer and Keon Johnson together for the first time all season, forcing Josiah-Jordan James to come off the bench for the first time this year as well.
The move paid off. Along with Springer’s production, James had nine points and Johnson had eight points, respectively. James was 3-of-5 shooting from three while grabbing 11 rebounds, tallying four assists and a blocking a shot.
Tennessee jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead courtesy of five early points from Santiago Vescovi and a stellar defensive start that held the Jayhawks to 1-of-6 shooting to begin the game. The early lead ballooned to 17-8 following a Fulkerson bucket and James three, forcing Kansas coach Bill Self to call a timeout with 12:53 to go.
Self’s timeout was the first of two he called in the first half. His team was unable to make adjustments following the first one, allowing Tennessee to extend its lead to 27-17 with 5:15 left following back-to-back buckets from Pons.
UT would go on to lead 40-26 at halftime. The Vols out-rebounded the Jayhawks 20-10 in the first half and held them to 27% shooting from the field while shooting 59% themselves. Tennessee was 5-of-7 from behind the three-point line over the opening 20 minutes.
It was much of the same in the second half. After a couple of buckets from the Jayhawks to start, Victor Bailey Jr. knocked down a three to cap a 9-0 run by Tennessee and force yet another timeout by Self. Once again, the timeout didn’t help, as UT would extend its lead from 21 to 26. Kansas was only able to get back within with 17.
Tennessee ended up winning the rebounding battle 38-23. More impressively, it didn’t allow Kansas to tally any second-chance points. The Vols out-scored the Jayhawks 28-22 and had 14 points off of seven offensive rebounds.
UT now shifts its attention back to conference play. Following a three-game homestand, the Vols will hit the road for two straight. They’ll begin with a Tuesday night matchup in Oxford against Ole Miss (8-8, 3-6 SEC) at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 before traveling to Lexington next Saturday to face Kentucky (5-10, 4-4 SEC) at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN.