Tekele Cotton spurs Wichita State past UT Vols

Tekele Cotton spurs Wichita State past UT Vols

December 15th, 2013 by Patrick Brown in Sports - College

Wichita State's Cleanthony Early dunks the ball against Tennesse during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 in Wichita, Kan.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Tennessee's basketball Volunteers were a Jeronne Maymon layup away from adding to a small lead midway through the second half on the road against a top-15 opponent.

Tekele Cotton then changed the game.

The 6-foot-2 Wichita State guard skied to block Maymon's attempt off the backboard, then gathered the rebound after another Tennessee miss, sprinted down the floor and converted a three-point play that swung the momentum of the 12th-ranked Shockers' eventual 70-61 win against the visiting Vols on Saturday afternoon at INTRUST Bank Arena.

"It was tough for us," Tennessee guard Jordan McRae said during a postgame interview on the Vol Network's radio broadcast of the game. "They just made some huge plays. They've got us a lot on the offensive glass, and I just think we've got to do a better job toward the end of the game."

In its biggest nonconference game of the season, Tennessee led 26-25 at halftime but faded down the stretch and missed out on what would have been a very quality win against a Wichita State team that's now 10-0 -- the best start in program history -- coming off a run to last season's Final Four.

In a tight game in which the largest lead was only five points until the game's final five minutes, the Vols (6-3) took a 44-41 lead with 9:45 remaining after two dunks by Jarnell Stokes, the second of which drew a foul and ended in a three-point play.

"I thought [when] we had them up three, we could go up five, seven, and it just didn't happen," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin told the Vol Network.

Cotton's game-changing sequence came on the Vols' next trip down the floor, but it was just the start of a strong second half from the junior from Georgia, who almost single-handedly finished off Tennessee.

After McRae, who led Tennessee with 26 points, hit a 3-pointer and sank two free throws to cut the Shockers' lead to 51-49 with 6:50 left, Cotton hit a 3 from near Wichita State's bench and made two foul shots after he was fouled grabbing a rebound to push the Shockers' lead to 56-49.

On Wichita State's next possession, Cotton found Chadrack Lufile with a bounce pass for a layup, and the Vols were unable to pull within less than seven points after the Shockers' 7-0 spurt.

Scoreless in the first half, Cotton finished with 19 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals, and he was 9-of-11 on free throws and hit two 3s.

"He 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. He had a key block on Jeronne. I thought he had a key steal when Jordan was in transition. He took it on the other end and got one-and-ones out of the deal. He did a good job of playing on both ends."

Cleanthony Early scored 13 points, including a dagger 3-pointer that pushed the Wichita State lead to 63-51, and Darius Carter chipped in 11 points and 14 rebounds off the Shockers' bench.

McRae, who passed the 1,000-point plateau for his career in the game and threw down a highlight-reel tomahawk dunk in the second half, was the only Tennessee player in double figures, and he made eight of the Vols' 20 field goals.

"To be honest, right now I can't really even think about that," McRae said about his career milestone. "This game right here, it really meant a lot to us. That's all I can really get my mind around at this point."

Stokes struggled mightily in 22 foul-plagued minutes. His first basket came on a dunk midway through the second half, and he finished with just eight points and four rebounds, which snapped his four-game streak of double-doubles.

Tennessee shot 15-of-24 from the free-throw line and missed at least four layups, many coming in the first half.

Contact Patrick Brown at pbrown@timesfreepress.com