"Vols Stifling Defense and Teamwork Diffuses Top Ranked Jayhawks"
The Kansas Jayhawks came into Knoxville full of spark and momentum, after all they were ranked number one in the nation and so far everything had been going their way this season. Not to mention the Jayhawks were considered by many college basketball analysts as one of the favorites to win it all in 2010, and so far they looked liked they were as they entered Thompson Bolling Arena with a 14 and 0 record. There's no question about it, the Jayhawks team has tremendous talent. Last years starting 5 are all back after making it all the way to the Final Four. Not one single player on that team though was prepared for what was about to happen in Knoxville on January 10th.
It was 4:30 on Sunday afternoon January 10, 2010, and the Jayhawks were just about to tip off against the 16th ranked Volunteers. When people looked at this match up on paper, no one gave Tennessee a fighting chance to win this game. The Vols had just released their star player Tyler Smith from the team and 3 others (all key contributors) were suspended indefinitely on account of their New Years day scandal that has already wound up kicking Smith off of the team. This left Bruce Pearl with only 6 scholarship players active on the roster. Including one being walk on freshman Skylar McBee, who would forever remember this game against the Jayhawks. Take this into consideration also Tyler Smith and the 3 other suspended players had accounted for 40 percent of Tennessee's total offense this year. So even though Tennessee came into this game ranked 16th they were given no chance at all.
It was now game-time and you could just feel the energy flowing through the 21,000 fans inside Thompson Bolling Arena as well as from the Tennessee Vols on the court. At the same time though you could sense that they were the underdogs and didn't know exactly what to expect out of the short-handed Volunteers. For the Vols had been through so many things in the past week. As Bruce Pearl described it as "the longest 10 days of my life". To be honest, to many people it seemed like the Tennessee men's basketball program was going downhill rapidly. The fans in Thompson Bolling Arena and Pearl and his players were on a mission to not let that happen though. So as the teams gathered to mid-court, the stadium was rocking. The referee blew the whistle and the game started. Something special was going to happen you could just feel it.
About midway through the first half the Vols were managing to keep the game close as the Jayhawks had a 16 to 13 lead. Tennessee was playing great defense but they were struggling offensively. Soon that changed though with 6 minutes to go the Vols heated up from the floor as they went into halftime with all the momentum and a 33 to 33 score. That's when Kansas fans realized, oh no they can keep up with us. They had this weird gut feeling you could just sense it by looking at them. Renaldo Woolridge was on fire in the first half as he hit 3 3 pointers in a row to tie the game, but that wasn't why the Vols were still in this game. They were still in this game because they were playing together as a team, as Kansas looked like a one man team out there. You could see the togetherness of the Vols on the court and especially during timeouts. They couldn't wait to get the second half started back up.
The Vols came out of the locker room fired up and ready to go, and they showed it as they controlled the game for the majority of the second half. Somehow though Kansas would always find ways to keep it a single digit deficit. The stadium was deafening now as there were less than 2 minutes in the game now and the depleted Volunteers held a 70 to 64 lead. The Vols had to win this anything short of a win would be a heart breaker they had played so well, and they were about to knock off the number one team in the nation. With 1:53 left in the game J.P. Prince went to the line for 2 huge free throws. He only made one so Kansas was still in the game but they needed to hit some big shots. That they did as Brady Morningstar hit a 3 pointer with 1:12 in the game to cut the Vols lead to 71 to 68. Tennessee really needed a big shot now to put the game out of reach, someone needed to step up big time. So Tennessee wound the clock down to about 8 seconds and surprisingly freshman walk on Skylar McBee was just standing near center court with the ball in his hands seeming like he didn't know the shot clock was about to run out. The fans let him know that he better get a shot off so with 2 seconds left on the shot clock and only 36 seconds left in the game McBee heaved an off balanced desperation 3 pointer. This shot seemed to float in the air for an eternity as it was most likely the biggest shot of the game, and then swish. He had just hit a huge three pointer that would put the game out of reach for the Jayhawks! The Vols had just knocked off the number one team in the nation with only 6 scholarship players on the active roster and 2 of those being in foul trouble the whole game, not to mention they were both seniors (Wayne Chism and J.P. Prince). But the 16th ranked Volunteers had done it! The crowd went bizerks and so did the players, as the celebration lasted into the night and who knows they probably still are celebrating now. The players and Pearl after the game celebrated with fans and thanked them for supporting them through everything, and Pearl got the Tennessee Vols flag and ran like a crazy man around the stadium with it. This was a huge win for the Vols and might have saved the whole season, as now they have really come together as a team and know they can play with the best of the best. Tennessees' men's basketball program was on the rise once again.
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