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Kansas guard Devon Dotson drives past Tennessee freshman Josiah-Jordan James for a basket during the first half of Saturday's Big 12/SEC Challenge matchup in Lawrence, Kan. Kansas won 74-68. / AP photo by Orlin Wagner

KNOXVILLE — Tennessee pushed third-ranked Kansas in a Big 12/SEC Challenge game Saturday afternoon at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, but the Volunteers ultimately took a tough loss, 74-68, to fall to 12-7 this season.

The Vols (4-2 Southeastern Conference) are back in league play for the rest of the regular season, starting with a visit from Texas A&M (9-9, 7-4) at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Thompson-Boling Arena. SEC Network will televise the game.

Here are three observations from Tennessee's loss to the Jayhawks (16-3):

1. The game plan (kind of) worked! The Times Free Press preview of the Vols' visit to Kansas emphasized Tennessee needed to really test the interior depth of the Jayhawks, who had two players suspended for involvement in a fight during Tuesday's home win against Kansas State. The Vols — who have been playing with limited depth on the interior all season — did just that, attacking center Udoke Azibuike and getting him in foul trouble in the first half. Tennessee was rated plus-10 from the time Azibuike picked up his second foul with 10:46 remaining in the half until he returned with 5:48 remaining. Yves Pons had perhaps his best game as a Vol, scoring a career-high 24 points on 8-of-14 shooting, and John Fulkerson had 15 points and 12 rebounds.

2. Sad substitutes: There's no way around it. The bench production was pretty sad. Only four Tennessee players scored: four starters and Jalen Johnson, who had one point. Josiah-Jordan James filled up the stat sheet with rebounds (seven) and assists (four), but he also turned the ball over six times and was rated minus-20 in 26 minutes. The Vols needed something from him in the way of offense, and he was 0-for-6 from the field. And he started! Nobody coming off the Tennessee bench added any sort of production, and that's exactly what can't happen for the Vols to have any level of success.

3. Toughness in a tough environment: Even with the offensive deficiencies and the lack of production in certain other areas, the Vols were in the game until the end. Pons was as good as any player on the court Saturday, and after dealing with first-half foul trouble, senior guard Jordan Bowden scored 19 points after the break. Yes, the parts of this team are mismatched, but what's undeniable — and performances like Saturday's solidify this belief — is that coach Rick Barnes has developed a tough, hard-nosed team that is going to defend and cause problems for opponents. That will be worth a win at some point.

Contact Gene Henley at ghenley@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.

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