By Jack Foster
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — No. 10 Tennessee Basketball achieved their best win of the season over No. 1 Alabama on Wednesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena. Tennessee outplayed the top-ranked Tide for the entirety of the matchup thanks to elite defensive play and a balanced offensive effort.
With starters Josiah-Jordan James and Julian Phillips not playing, several Vols stepped up to the plate and displayed an elite level of winning basketball on the floor against the Tide.
We take a look at three of the most notable storylines from Tennessee’s statement win.
Jonas Aidoo Breaks Out
Tennessee was heavily assisted by sophomore big man Jonas Aidoo against Alabama. Aidoo finished the night with 12 points and 11 rebounds to give him his first career double-double. Aidoo was everywhere for Tennessee offensively and defensively.
Seemingly every time Tennessee needed a bucket to keep a multi-possession lead, Aidoo was there, down in the paint, able to get a bucket. On the defensive end, Aidoo was Tennessee’s top rim protector for the night and was the Vols best weapon when managing Alabama’s size.
In addition to Aidoo’s paint presence both offensively and defensively, the sophomore hit two midrange two-pointers on the evening. Aidoo has been known to take shots when directly looking at the basket closer to the top of the key, and he did that against Alabama. It worked for the big man, and his production was much needed for shorthanded Tennessee.
Jahmai Mashack Makes Life Difficult for Brandon Miller
A huge question mark entering the game for Tennessee was how they were going to guard Alabama’s star freshman Brandon Miller. Miller, a wing for Tennessee, would’ve likely matched up against Josiah-Jordan James or Julian Phillips. But with both players inactive, Tennessee had to turn elsewhere.
They looked no further than sophomore Jahmai Mashack, a known pest on defense. Mashack rose to the challenge and made life difficult for the elite freshman. Miller finished with a double-double, scoring 15 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, but he worked for every single bucket.
Miller eventually fouled out in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter, helping Tennessee to salt the game away. Mashack’s impact was not seen on the stat sheet, as he scored 0 points. But Mashack’s energy, effort and physicality were unmatched by any Alabama player Wednesday, and he led the Vols in +/- with +9.
Vols Close it Out
A key storyline from Tennessee’s back-to-back heartbreaking losses last week against Vanderbilt and Missouri was their inability to close out games. In both losses, the Vols made crucial errors in the final minutes to sink themselves.
Up five points with less than a minute to go, Tennessee could’ve fallen in that trap again. But the Vols, specifically Santiago Vescovi, had already learned their lesson.
Tennessee made zero mistakes in the final minute, and Vescovi was 4-4 from the line in the final 41 seconds after missing a crucial free throw in each of the past two games.
Vescovi’s late-game free throws were significant for the Vols in keeping a comfortable lead as Tennessee closed the door on Alabama.
Tennessee’s will look to follow up their impressive performance with a second consecutive win when the Vols travel to Lexington, Kentucky, to face the Wildcats in Rupp Arena on Saturday.