WICHITA, Kan. – Nationally ranked Wichita State, trailing by three points, ripped Tennessee with a 16-5 run in the second half and defeated the Vols, 70-61, to become the first Shockers’’ team in school history to start a season with 10 consecutive victories.
Junior guard Tekele Cotton triggered the decisive Shockers’ run with six straight points and Darius Carter’s putback of a missed Cotton free throw gave 12th-ranked Wichita State eight straight points, wiping out Tennessee’s 44-41 lead with 8:30 left.
Tennessee’s Jordan McRae, who led the Vols with a season-high 26 points, hit a 3 from the left wing to momentarily slow the Shockers’ run.
Cleanthony Early drove the lane with a layup and the Shockers’ lead was 51-47.
McRae made two free throws with 6:49 left, pushing him past the 1,000-point barrier, but Cotton came back with a 3 from the right wing and two free throws and Chadrack Lufile added two free throws and Wichita State’s back-breaking run had ended with a 58-49 advantage.
“To be honest,” McRae said, “I can’t even think about that. This game really meant a lot to us. (The points) something I can’t wrap my mind around at this point.”
Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin had more to stay about McRae’s milestone, though.
“I think it’s a tremendous honor for a guy who didn’t play as a freshman,” Martin said. “You’re into the 1,000-point club at the University of Tennessee; there are so many great players that have done that.”
McRae, the only Tennessee player in double figures, is the 45th player in Tennessee history to join the 1,000-point club. His 1,005 career points ranks third among active Southeastern Conference players behind Alabama’s Trevor Releford (1,299) and LSU’s Andre Stringer (1,037).
McRae is just behind Gene Tormohlen (1,020 points, 1956-59) on the Vols’ all-time list.
The game highlight for McRae was a thunderous one-handed tomahawk dunk that pulled the Vols to within 39-38 with 12:45 left in the game. McRae was immediately whistled for a technical foul for his reaction to the dunk and Ron Baker made two free throws for a 41-38 Shockers lead.
McRae made 8 of 17 attempts and went 3-of-10 from 3-point distance.
Tennessee (6-3) was done after the Shockers’ run and with the run the preseason picks to win the Missouri Valley Conference avenged a 69-60 setback in Knoxville on Dec. 13, 2012. That Tennessee victory spoiled the Shockers’ 9-0 start.
Cotton led the Shockers with 19 points – all in the second half – on 4-of-11 shooting, including 2 of 3 from 3-point distance. Early finished with 13 points and Carter came off the bench to score 11 points and grab 14 rebounds to the delight of 14,356 partisan fans in INTRUST Bank Arena.
“I thought (Cotton) played a good game on both ends of the floor,” Martin said. “He got to the free throw line quite a bit, but I thought he impacted the game on defense.”
Early’s 3 gave the Shockers a 63-51 advantage – it was their biggest lead of the game – with 2:46 left.
Junior Jarnell Stokes, who had posted a nation-leading streak of four straight double-doubles, had a miserable game for the Vols. Stokes finished with eight points and four rebounds and fouled out late in the game when the outcome was no longer in doubt.
Two dunks by Stokes – he was scoreless in the first half – gave Tennessee a 44-41 lead with 8:47 left.
Jeronne Maymon came close to notching a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds while Stokes struggled through a sub-par performance.
The players most responsible for a strong inside game – Stokes and Maymon – failed to provide the spark needed to put any pressure on the Shockers’ in-the-paint defense.
“That’s one of the keys for us,” Martin said. “Jordan ended up with 26 points, but when (Stokes and Maymon) don’t play as well we shoot a lot of 3s. When we have opportunities around the basket or one-on-ones we have to capitalize.”
Stokes missed the final six minutes of the first half, yet the Vols were within one point (26-25) of the Shockers at halftime. Stokes and Maymon were a combined 1-for-6 from the field and five rebounds in 27 minutes of action in the first half.
Tennessee wound up shooting 38 percent from the field (20 of 52) and 30 percent on 3s (6 of 20). Wichita State, which reached last season’s NCAA Final Four, shot 43 percent (23 of 53) and 38 percent from 3-point distance (6 of 16).
The Shockers had a 36-31 rebounding edge.
The Vols hung with the Shockers in the first half despite shooting 38 percent (9 of 24) from the field and just 3 of 10 from behind the 3-point arc.
McRae led with the Vols with 11 points in the first half on 4-of-7 shooting.
A.J. Davis, a freshman and one two players that are sons of former NBA players (sophomore Quinton Chievous is the other), scored six points for the Vols.
Sophomore guard Fred VanVleet had a team-high eight points for the Shockers at halftime and was one of three players to make three of five attempts from the floor in the first 20 minutes. Darius Carter was strong on the boards with nine first-half rebounds.
The Vols return to action on Wednesday when they host North Carolina State at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville – it’s the first of four straight home games. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. and ESPNU will televise the game.
After N.C. State, the Vols host Morehead State (Dec. 23), Virginia (Dec. 30) and Tusculum College (Jan. 4) before opening SEC play at LSU on Jan. 7.
“You have to protect your home court,” Martin said. “It’s four games, but the most important one is against N.C. State.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)