NEWARK, N.J. — Tennessee was on the receiving end of a Texas-sized payback Saturday night.
The 15th-ranked Longhorns handed the seventh-ranked Vols a 97-78 loss in the championship game of the StubHub Legends Classic at the Prudential Center.
Big 12 preseason Player of the Year D.J. Augustin scored 23 points, Connor Atchley had 22 and A.J. Abrams and Justin Mason added 21 apiece for the Longhorns (5-0).
“We knew we could beat these guys,” Augustin said. “We didn’t want what happened last year to happen this year. We’re a smarter team this year.”
Last year, Chris Lofton scored 35 points and pulled down 11 rebounds as the Vols rallied from 17 points down in the second half to score a 111-105 overtime win in Knoxville over a Texas team featuring Kevin Durant, the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft.
This year, Lofton led Tennessee (5-1) with 18 points against Texas, but there was no comeback. The Vols were out-quicked, out-muscled and out-played most of the game.
“Bring the girls’ team next time Tennessee!” a Texas fan from within the crowd of 4,327 shouted with 7½ minutes left and the Longhorns up by 20. “We want Pat (Summitt)!”
Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, who has seemingly had all the answers while running up a 51-20 mark in his three seasons at the helm, left the arena wearing a per-plexed look. The 19-point margin matched last year’s Lofton-less 76-57 defeat at Kentucky as Pearl’s most-lopsided defeat with the Vols.
“There was a lot of times we lacked purpose and focus and didn’t play with the passion that you need to play,” Pearl said. “I’m not sure at what point we lost it.”
The game started well for the Vols with Tyler Smith winning the opening tip and Tennessee jumping to a 4-0 lead on two Wayne Chism baskets.
The long, athletic Longhorns caught up quickly. The teams traded the lead 12 times before the Vols held their final advantage at 39-38 on a Tyler Smith bucket with 4:37 left in the half.
But then the Texas’ offense struck oil and Tennessee’s went dry. The Longhorns drilled shot after shot while gushing out to a 50-39 lead by virtue of a 12-0 run that included two Abrams’ 3-pointers.
“We’re better organized, we’re a year older, and we’re further along than we were last year in December,” Texas coach Rick Barnes said. “We did something we hadn’t done; we concentrated on playing personnel … and tried to take away the other team’s scorers.
“We wanted to push into those guys (Lofton and JaJuan Smith) and encourage their other guys to shoot.”
JaJuan Smith had 13 points on 4-of-11 shooting and Lofton got his 18 on 5-of-10 shooting. The rest of the Vols combined to shoot 17-of-46 (37 percent).
No one in Tennessee orange hit in the closing minutes of the first half, however. The Big Orange went sour from the field, missing their final 10 shots from the floor before intermission.
A pair of JaJuan Smith free throws with 53.7 seconds left in the half temporarily stopped the Texas’ strike and left the halftime score at 50-41.
It took a JaJuan Smith basket with 18:50 left in the game to cut the Longhorns’ lead to 54-43 and snap a string of 12 consecutive missed shots that spanned 5½ minutes back into the opening half.
The Vols, playing without forward Ryan Childress, who injured his ankle in Friday night’s 74-72 win over West Virginia, failed to draw within single digits the rest of the night and trailed by as many as 23.
“You’ve got to give credit to Texas,” said Tyler Smith, who scored 11 points and had team-highs in rebounds (eight) and assists (eight). “They’ve got some great guards.”
The Longhorns made 63.6 percent of their shots including 5-of-10 beyond the 3-point arc. Texas also out-rebounded Tennessee 38-30 and made 17-of-23 free throws to the Vols’ 10-of-16.
“We missed a bunch of shots we normally make,” Pearl said. “We got off to a good start with our looks but nothing went down.”
Understandably, the loss wasn’t going down too easily for Tennessee, either.
“I know this was a championship game, but from the get-go in the locker room, there wasn’t a lot of energy,” said Josh Tabb, who along with his teammates left the Prudential Center at 12:30 a.m. Saturday after Friday’s win over West Virginia.
“We’re going to learn from this,” Tabb said. “It’s kind of embarrassing, but I think it could help us down the line.”
The Vols return to action at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Thompson-Boling Arena against North Carolina A&T.
Worth Noting: Bernard King was honored as Tennessee’s legend at halftime of the game … Lofton was named to the all-tournament team … Tyler Smith and JaJuan Smith logged season-highs in minutes with 33 and 32, respectively … Pearl dropped to 9-6 against ranked teams while with the Vols … Mason’s 21 points were a career-high for Texas and Atchley’s 22 points matched his career high.