WICHITA, Kan. (AP) With the possibility of playing Tennessee on Saturday without leading scorer Ron Baker, who sprained his ankle Thursday, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall was interested to see how his team would respond in Friday’s practice.
“Tekele Cotton was a man possessed,” Marshall said. “I texted him and told him to bring that same guy to the game.”
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Cotton scored all 19 of his points in the second half, pushing No. 12 Wichita State to a 70-61 victory over the Volunteers.
Darius Carter had 11 points and 14 rebounds while Cleanthony Early added 13 points as the Shockers (10-0) got off to the best start in school history.
Jordan McRae scored 26 points for Tennessee (6-3), which shot 16 of 47 (34 percent) over the game’s final 35 minutes.
“I thought Cotton was the key for them in the second half,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “He played an overall floor game.”
Never was that more the case than in the game’s most significant sequence.
Midway through the second half, Tennessee had grabbed momentum with a 10-2 run that featured three dunks while holding the Shockers without a field goal for almost 6 minutes.
Jarnell Stokes’ slam with 10:22 to play tied it 41-41, and his dunk 37 seconds later led to a three-point opportunity. He made the free throw for a 44-41 lead.
“I thought we were in good shape,” Martin said.
That is when Cotton took over.
He made two free throws. Then he blocked two Tennessee shots on the same possession, leading to a transition opportunity he finished with a runner while being fouled.
The crowd of 14,356 in the downtown Intrust Bank Arena went crazy, and Wichita State would not trail again after Cotton’s free throw made it 46-44 with 9:09 remaining.
While the always-understated Cotton tried to downplay what happened — “I was just doing everything I could to stop him from scoring,” he said — Marshall and Martin called it the game’s turning point.
“It was an incredible block,” Marshall said.
No one had a better view than Shockers point guard Fred VanVleet.
“They were such amazing plays,” he said. “It definitely changed the entire game.”
Just 31 seconds later, Cotton drew another foul. He missed the second free throw, which Carter rebounded and put back in for a 49-44 lead.
“I just fed off Tekele’s energy at that time,” Carter said. “I wanted to chase every ball today, so I was just going after it.”
Carter’s rebounding was the key. Tennessee entered the game outrebounding opponents by more than 10 a game but Wichita State won the rebounding battle 36-31.
“We worked on rebounding diligently for days,” Marshall said. “There’s probably bruises and scratches on our guys still from working on checking out.”
A 3-pointer by Cotton started a 7-0 run that pushed Wichita State’s lead to 58-49 with 4:47 remaining.
A 3 by Early beat the shot-clock buzzer and made it 63-51 with 2:43 to play.
While Baker did play through the pain of his injured left ankle, he was limited to eight points in 32 minutes.
“When it happened, there was no way I thought he was going to play today,” Carter said. “Seeing him go out there, we wanted to win for him.”
The anticipated grinding pace of the game was nowhere to be found at the beginning. Wichita State and Tennessee combined to make 13 of their first 20 field-goal attempts, including all five 3-pointers. Wichita State led 17-16 at that point behind eight points from VanVleet.
But the rest of the half was quite the opposite as the teams combined to go 7 of 29 over the final 12 minutes, 1 of 13 from behind the 3-point line.
Neither team led by more than three points in the half’s final 12 minutes and the Volunteers led 26-25 at halftime.