In the end the “Tougher Breed” wasn’t quite tough enough.
Leading 44-41 with 9:45 left, Tennessee was outscored 22-7 over the next seven minutes as No. 12 Wichita State surged ahead 63-51 en route to a 70-61 victory Saturday at INTRUST Bank Arena.
With the win Wichita State moves to 10-0. Tennessee, which slips to 6-3, looks to bounce back against North Carolina State Wednesday night at 7 in Thompson-Boling Arena.
Jarnell Stokes, held scoreless for Saturday’s first 29 minutes, woke up when the Shockers’ 6-foot-9, 268-pound Chadrack Lufile went to the bench with four fouls midway through the second half. Stokes scored back-to-back dunks, adding an and-one on the second. That five-point spurt turned a 39-41 deficit into a 44-41 lead.
The Vols appeared ready to go up 46-41 moments later when Jeronne Maymon appeared to break free for a layup. A quick-recovering Tekele Cotton blocked the shot from behind, however, then took over the game on the offensive end.
After bagging a couple of free throws, Cotton scored a three-point play, then hit the front end of a two-shot foul. He missed the second but teammate Darius Carter scored on the put-back to cap an 8-0 rally that turned the 41-44 deficit into a 49-44 Shocker lead.
A Jordan McRae 3-pointer narrowed the gap to 49-47 but Cotton hit a 3-pointer and four more free throws in a 14-4 Wichita State run that bumped the lead to 63-51 with 2:47 remaining.
“I thought Jeronne had an opportunity to get a layup but they made a play, then Cotton made an and-one,” Vol head coach Cuonzo Martin said on the post-game show. “When we had ‘em up three, I thought we’d go up five, seven, but it just didn’t happen.”
Another McRae 3-pointer whittled the deficit to 64-57 with 1:52 left but Carter hit a layup and Cotton added a free throw to reclaim the momentum and seal the deal.
“They just made some huge plays,” McRae said of the Shockers. “They got us a lot on the offensive glass. I just think we’ve got to do a better job toward the end of the game.”
McRae hit 8 of 17 field-goal tries and led Tennessee with 26 points, passing the 1,000-point barrier for his career. Maymon added 9 and 9 rebounds. Fellow post player Stokes, coming off a string of four consecutive double-doubles, managed just 8 and 4 rebounds.
With Maymon and Stokes struggling inside, Tennessee launched 20 attempts from 3-point range, hitting six. The Vols shot a paltry 38.5 percent (20 of 52) from the field.
“When those two guys don’t play as well it’s always an indication when we shoot a lot of 3s,” Martin said. “That’s the biggest key. When we get opportunities around the basket one on one we’ve got to capitalize.”
Cotton scored 19 points – all in the second half – to pace Wichita State. Cleanthony Early added 13 points, and 6-foot-7, 235-pound Darius Carter dominated inside with 11 points and 14 rebounds.
Tennessee's "Tougher Breed" motto didn't hold up in this game. The Vols were outrebounded 36-31 by the Shockers, who also recorded more assists (13 to 11) and fewer turnovers (7 to 8).
Tennessee shot a chilly 37.5 percent from the field in the first half but led 26-25 at the break thanks to some strong defensive play. The Vols were outscored 45-35 over the final 20 minutes. Their half-court offense was awful during that 22-7 spurt by Wichita State.
“One of the keys is you’ve got to be able to flow into it,” Martin said. “You’ve got to get the ball inside and sprint into what you’re doing. We didn’t do a very good job in the second half. But that’s what happens when Jeronne and Jarnell are kind of in and out.”