During the past eight days, low hanging clouds over the Tennessee men's basketball team were filled with worry.
The Vols scored 74 points combined in back-to-back losses more than a week ago to Georgetown and Virginia.
The return of injured star Jeronne Maymon is far from imminent.
A 4-3 record was cast as a disappointment.
So if told Tennessee would get 13 points combined by starters Jarnell Stokes, Kenny Hall, Josh Richardson and Skylar McBee in a return to the floor against a ranked foe, most would imagine that cloud booming with thunder.
Sometimes, when in need of a win, teams need a leader and some unlikely protagonists.
That's exactly what the Vols got in a stirring 69-60 victory against previously unbeaten No. 23 Wichita State on Thursday on "Ray Mears Night" at Thompson-Boling Arena.
"A game like that definitely says something about our character," said junior guard Jordan McRae, who scored 17 of Tennessee's 31 points off the bench.
McRae teamed with point guard Trae Golden to carry Tennessee (5-3), while unlikely catalysts Yemi Makanjuola, backup wing D'Montre Edwards and even walk-on sophomore Brandon Lopez, did some unlikely heavy lifting.
After Stokes drew his fourth foul early in the second half, Wichita State (9-1) used a quick 7-0 spurt to build its largest lead of the night, 47-42, with 11:35 remaining.
The Vols, namely Makanjuola and McRae, counterpunched. McRae scored nine of the next 11, capping the stretch with a hesitant 3-pointer to bolster a 58-52 lead with 5:50 left.
In that span, Makanjuola scored two of his nine points, grabbed one of his eight rebounds, drew a charge and dealt an assist.
"We don't win that game without Yemi — Yemi was huge tonight," Golden said, later adding, "Yemi does things you can't teach. He's always around the ball. He just has a knack for stuff like that."
McRae's 3-pointer served as the dagger. From there, the Vols lived on the line. They hit 11 of 14 free throws to close the game and finished the night 29-of-36 from the stripe.
Tennessee was led by 25 points from Golden, who hit 13 of 16 free throws.
"Trae and Jordan, those guys weren't letting us lose this game," UT coach Cuonzo Martin said. "They were attack mode, they took care of the ball and they made their free throws."
Having shot 97-for-262 (37.0 percent) from the field in five games away from Thompson-Boling Arena, the Vols returned home to shoot 19-for-40 from the field. The offense was crisp.
"The biggest difference," McRae noted, "was that we only shot 10 threes."
Indeed, the Vols fired 58 threes in their three losses combined.
Lopez, who played five unexpected minutes against Georgetown, again heard his name called. He didn't fill the stat sheet in seven minutes against the Shockers, but Golden called him the team's "unsung hero" afterward.
After the Vols opened the night missing three of four shots and committing five turnovers, fans settled in for another offensive tour de bore.
UT found some rhythm, though, when Lopez was inserted. It was a welcomed sight after the past four halves of missed shots and building frustration. The Vols made 10 of their next 19 shots in the half.
A 30-28 halftime lead resulted. UT had failed to score more than 22 points in those four preceding halves.
Following Thursday's win, Martin said he could "truly care less" about the Vols' paltry offensive numbers in their three losses. He's preached shots will eventually fall.
"We have a lot of weapons," Golden echoed. "We knew we had to stay the course."
Wichita State's Carl Hall (21 points) was the lone Shocker to finish in double figures.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/BFQuinn