'Frustration' building for KU basketball after blowout loss at Tennessee

Matt Galloway
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas basketball coach Bill Self looks on during the second half of his team's game against Tennessee on Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn. The No. 15-ranked Jayhawks fell 80-61 to the No. 18 Volunteers.

Ahead of his team’s second contest in 48 hours, Bill Self had just two requests of his Kansas basketball players: compete with a free mind and let it fly.

Perhaps the Hall of Fame head coach should’ve been more specific on the latter.

“I guess when I said ‘let it fly,’ I meant to say 'let it fly and make a few of ’em,' ” deadpanned Self, speaking after the Jayhawks’ SEC/Big 12 Challenge matchup at No. 18 Tennessee, “but that certainly wasn’t the case.”

Certainly.

KU connected on just 6 of 24 tries from 3-point range, allowed the Volunteers to scorch the nets for an 8-for-13 showing from distance, and fell 80-61 on Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. The No. 15-ranked Jayhawks have now lost four of their last five contests, with Thursday’s 59-51 home victory over TCU the lone outlier.

Simply put: “We were bad, and Tennessee was great,” Self said.

“I may not even watch this (tape),” Self added. “I think it’s a situation where I don’t think our effort and energy was poor. I think our mindset going into the game was good. ...  I just don’t feel like when things don’t go well that we handle the adversity quite as well as what we need to or don’t adjust to what we need to do during the course of the game, especially early on. That put us behind the eight ball right off the bat.”

KU (11-6) failed to create any such adversity for the Volunteers, who led wire-to-wire.

While Tennessee (12-3) was hitting 5 of 7 tries from 3-point range in the opening half, the Jayhawks mustered just a 1-for-12 shooting performance from beyond the arc en route to a 40-26 deficit at intermission. KU guards combined to shoot 3 of 20 overall in the first half, while the team’s bigs were outmuscled to the tune of a plus-10 rebounding advantage by the Volunteers.

There’d be no second-half drama. The Jayhawks missed 16 of their first 17 attempts for 3 in the game, and while senior guard Marcus Garrett gave the team its second trey with 11:57 remaining, that conversion ended what was a 14-2 run for Tennessee — Victor Bailey scored the final eight points of that rally to deliver to the Volunteers a 61-37 advantage.

Tennessee entered Saturday shooting 32.6% from 3, ranked 219th nationally.

“They saw a big basket all night. That’s on us, but give them credit: They played a really good basketball game. Even Rick (Barnes) said that after the game,” Self said. “And we didn’t. We obviously didn’t play very well. We didn’t rebound. We didn’t do the things that good teams have to do, especially on the road. Getting off to a good start would be one, but (also) make the other team play poorly. That was the biggest takeaway I’ll have.”

David McCormack scored 17 points to lead the way for KU offensively, but the junior forward secured just two rebounds in 33 minutes, a big factor in the Jayhawks getting whipped 38-23 on the glass. Garrett (15 points) was KU's only other double-figure scorer.

Otherwise, it was a night to forget for the likes of Ochai Agbaji (nine points on 3-for-12 shooting), Christian Braun (two points on 0-for-4 shooting) and just about everyone else sporting crimson and blue. Dajaun Harris drew the start over fellow redshirt freshman Jalen Wilson but picked up two quick fouls and ended the game with no points and just one assist in 21 minutes.

Self said he “(wasn’t) going to get hung up on the shooting stuff,” instead zeroing in on “the plays that impact (KU) winning as a group.”

One defensive observation from the head coach: These Jayhawks “don’t do much” to play their man before he catches it behind the 3-point line.

“I’m pretty frustrated,” Self said. “I think we’ve had some pretty good defensive teams in the last 18 years, and I can’t remember a defensive team that was so giving as far as allowing people to basically execute what they want to do as opposed to us kind of taking them out of what they want to do, and we haven’t done that in quite some time. We’re not giving up on that by any stretch, but we’re not near aggressive or near as athletic on the perimeter as what we have been in the past."

KU entered the weekend ranked 227th in opponent 3-point shooting percentage, allowing foes to connect on 34.4% of their tries from downtown.

“I don’t think that we’ve got the personnel as much as we’ve had to be there on the catch as much," Self said. "We’re not a real quick team. ... When you allow a guy to catch the ball on the line and you close out short, it’s a relatively in-rhythm-type shot, and that’s what we did. We need to make them catch it a step farther out and then close out short, at least with some guys based on scouting report, and we don’t do that much."

Yves Pons led Tennessee with 17 points, with Jaden Springer (13 points), John Fulkerson (11) and Bailey (11) rounding out the team’s double-figure scorers. The Volunteers were 16 of 17 from the foul line.

KU will now look to get right against the Big 12's cellar dwellers — four of the Jayhawks' next six games will come against ninth-place Kansas State and last-place Iowa State, with a 7 p.m. Tuesday matchup against the Wildcats at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence up next.

“I think there’s definitely frustration, to be expected,” McCormack said. “The atmosphere (in the locker room) is just to get better, take what we can from this game and use it to get better.”

NO. 18 TENNESSEE 80, NO. 15 KANSAS 61

Kansas (11-6)

Garrett 4-7 5-5 15, Braun 0-4 2-2 2, Harris 0-0 0-1 0, Agbaji 3-12 2-4 9, McCormack 8-12 1-2 17, Grant-Foster 1-5 1-2 3, Jossell 0-0 0-0 0, Wilson 2-7 4-6 10, Teahan 0-0 0-0 0, Enaruna 1-3 0-0 3, Muscadin 0-0 0-0 0, Lightfoot 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 20-53 15-22 61. 

Tennessee (12-3)

Fulkerson 5-8 1-2 11, Springer 3-7 7-7 13, Vescovi 3-4 0-0 7, Pons 7-9 1-1 17, Johnson 3-8 2-2 8, Gaines 0-0 0-0 0, James 3-6 0-0 9, Bailey 2-4 5-5 11, Nkamhoua 2-7 0-0 4, Plavsic 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-53 16-17 80.

Half — Tennessee 40-26. 3-point goals — Kansas 6-24 (Garrett 2-2, Wilson 2-5, Enaruna 1-2, Agbaji 1-9, Lightfoot 0-1, Grant-Foster 0-1, Braun 0-4), Tennessee 8-13 (James 3-5, Pons 2-2, Bailey 2-4, Vescovi 1-1, Johnson 0-1). Rebounds — Kansas 23 (Wilson 9), Tennessee 38 (James 11). Assists — Kansas 16 (Wilson 6), Tennessee 15 (Bailey 4, James 4). Turnovers — Kansas 7 (Lightfoot 2), Tennessee 13 (Johnson 3, Bailey 3). Blocks — Kansas 1 (McCormack), Tennessee 1 (James). Steals — Kansas 6 (Garrett, Harris, Agbaji, McCormack, Grant-Foster, Lightfoot), Tennessee 3 (Bailey, Springer, Gaines). Total fouls — Kansas 18, Tennessee 16. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none. Officials — Oglesby, Greene, Wymer. Attendance — 4,191.