Trouble in paradise: No. 3 Kansas out of sync entirely in 64-50 Battle 4 Atlantis title game loss to No. 22 Tennessee

photo by: Photo courtesy of Bahamas Visual Services

Kansas forward KJ Adams rips down a rebound against Tennessee at the Bad Boy Mower’s Men’s Battle 4 Atlantis Friday November 25, 2022 at Atlantis, Paradise Island in The Bahamas. (Photo by Tim Aylen)

For a team that left the Battle 4 Atlantis floor bouncing and beaming with joy on Thursday night, Friday’s 64-50 loss to No. 22 Tennessee was not the encore the third-ranked Jayhawks had in mind.

And it wasn’t particularly close.

Playing without its top two point guards for most of the night, a group that Kansas coach Bill Self called “a tired team,” never led and watched the Volunteers (5-1) dominate in several key aspects of the game.

Tennessee hit 44.4% of its 3-point attempts (12 for 27), outrebounded the Jayhawks 45-27 and held KU to 32% shooting overall and a 24% clip from 3-point range.

“We were individuals, instead of a team,” Self said after Friday’s loss. “And bodies wore down. It’s nice to be physically conditioned, and we are, but strength plays into that and I think bodies were tired. In the past, we’ve been a team that’s liked that. With this team, I think it would’ve been nice if there was a day in between games.”

Instead, KU was held to its lowest offensive output since the Jayhawks scored 40 points in a Champions Classic loss to Kentucky in 2014 and its fewest points since scoring 51 in an NCAA Tournament loss to USC in 2021. One year earlier, Kansas twice scored 55 points in losses at Villanova and Baylor.

“We were awful offensively,” Self said in a postgame radio interview with Greg Gurley. “Other guys hung in there, but we didn’t have anything that we could really go to to get the game back except dribble drive and we didn’t really dribble drive it because we took too many jump shots.”

Friday’s loss also snapped KU’s 17-game winning streak, which spanned the first six games of the current season and the final 11 games of the 2021-22 national championship season.

“I told the kids we weren’t going to run the table,” Self told Gurley. “There’s some things we can tighten up, but it was a good trip. I think we learned a lot about ourselves and we played three really good teams.”

KU junior Jalen Wilson finished with 14 points but was just 3-of-15 on the night and held to four total rebounds.

“Jalen has been such a good defensive rebounder for us and they did a good job of making sure Jalen couldn’t get to the glass, whether on offense or defense,” Self said. “That was a big key to their success and lack thereof for ours.”

Wilson said KU’s approach against Tennessee’s bigger, longer front line left the Jayhawks without much of a chance.

“It’s difficult when they do have length,” Wilson said. “But if we would’ve done a better job and got those big guys moving more, that could’ve given us a better chance at finishing at the rim.”

Self said KU’s first-shot defense was good but noted that Tennessee separated itself when the Volunteers forced help and opened up rotational rebounding for easy buckets on the offensive end.

“They dominated us on the glass,” Self said. “Big time.”

Just about nothing went right for the Jayhawks on Friday, from missed shots to uncharacteristic turnovers and Tennessee catching fire from the outside despite entering the game shooting just 29% from 3-point range through the season’s first five games.

By far the biggest thing that went against Kansas in this one, though, was point guard Dajuan Harris Jr.’s inability to stay on the floor.

Harris, who makes everything go for the Kansas offense, picked up his second foul at the 10:03 mark of the first half. Self promptly took him out, but he put him back in at the 7:55 mark. Harris then lasted just another 102 seconds, picking up his third foul at the 6:13 mark of the first half.

That marked the end of the half for Harris, but it was far from the worst of it. Harris was whistled for his fourth foul at the 15:24 mark of the second half — with Kansas trailing just 37-31 — and, after sitting until the 10:15 mark, picked up foul No. 5 at the 9-minute mark, leaving the Jayhawks to go the rest of the way without their top offensive creator.

“Juan’s got to be in the game for us to have a good shot,” Self said, adding that the officiating had nothing to do with any of Harris’ fouls or the Jayhawks’ loss.

KU also played most of Friday’s game without backup point guard Bobby Pettiford, who left the game with a hamstring injury in the opening minutes.

“He’ll be out for a while,” Self said of Pettiford, the hero of KU’s semifinal win over Wisconsin on Thursday. “I don’t know how long. He’s got a hamstring strain.”

The overall tone for Friday’s loss was set early and favored Tennessee significantly. The Vols shot better, looked calmer and kept Kansas reeling on both ends of the floor while jumping out to a 10-2 lead.

The Jayhawks’ first bucket did not come until Kevin McCullar Jr. hit an uncontested layup at the 15:24 mark. Kansas misfired on eight of its first nine shot attempts, including an 0-for-3 clip from 3-point range, and had five turnovers in the game’s first seven minutes, matching the total of giveaways by the Volunteers during that same stretch.

Those Tennessee turnovers and a 5-of-13 showing from the floor helped Kansas stay close, though, and the Jayhawks trailed just 12-5 at the under-12 timeout of the first half.

A pair of free throws by Wilson pulled Kansas within five, and the Jayhawks had a chance to cut the lead to three on their next possession. But a lob from Harris intended for Ernest Udeh Jr., was a little too high. Tennessee answered that with a 3-pointer from Zakai Zeigler to go back up eight. And on the next Kansas possession, Harris was whistled for his second foul with 10:03 to play.

Harris went to the bench from there, and his absence merely added to KU’s offensive struggles, which included a 3-of-14 shooting mark through the first 12 minutes of the game.

As the Volunteers kept turning the ball over, the Jayhawks momentarily found their shot. Joe Yesufu hit the team’s first 3-pointer of the night to pull KU with four at 17-13. And Wilson’s 3-pointer after a strong offensive rebound by KJ Adams pulled the Jayhawks within one, 17-16.

“I thought Joe did some good things,” Self said. “Joe’s a 2 guard, though. When he played point we turned it over.”

Added Yesufu: “I feel I could do a lot better, of course on the defensive end, and getting my teammates involved better (on offense).”

Yesufu finished with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting in 27 minutes, but also added two turnovers and no assists.

Self said he was encouraged by how hard his team played and added that the Jayhawks learned a lot about themselves against three good opponents during their trip to the Bahamas. Like most teams at this time of year, Self’s biggest takeaway for this bunch is that it still has some work to do to learn to play for each other.

“We were nothing close to becoming a team tonight,” he said.

Friday’s loss sends KU home with a 6-1 record and a Monday night date with Texas Southern at Allen Fieldhouse. Tipoff for that one is set for 7 p.m.


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