Photo Credit: Andrew Ferguson/ Tennessee Athletics
By Devin Hoke
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Volunteers took down hated rival the Alabama Crimson Tide 91-71 inside of a sold out Food City Center, despite the weather creating treacherous driving conditions.
This series dates back to February 1914 and after this 154th meeting, Alabama leads the all time series 82-72, but Tennessee now has the last two victories including an upset over #1 ranked Alabama last season. Veteran Santiago Vescovi also had his 128th career start which ties the most all time in Vols men’s hoops history with Chris Lofton and Allan Houston who both have banners hanging from the rafters.
Alabama never had a lead in this game. From the tip Tennessee was the more intense team and used their physicality and toughness to their advantage. Alabama head coach Nate Oats in the press conference said that “they were just tougher” and that his team had not lost that way in a while. Coach Oats did also look at the brightside and remembered how after his incredible team last year lost on the road to the Vols, they used that experience to play tougher which helped them finish with a very good season.
The two star players offensively for each team were Dalton Knecht for Tennessee and Mark Sears for Alabama and as both defenses keyed in on them, they each had their ups and downs. Knecht was the first player to have back to back games scoring 35 or more points in the SEC since Shaquille O’Neal did that feat in 1991 with LSU heading into this match and Mark Sears was leading the SEC in scoring heading into this match with 19.6 points per game. Knecht would end up scoring 25 points but the averages (8-20 on FG and 1-6 on 3P) were not ideal. Sears would score 22 points to improve his great average but it took a while to get rolling and he did not start making big scores until his team was down by a lot. Jahmai Mashack caused Sears a lot of problems when guarding him. In the press conference I asked Mashack what in particular he was looking for; it was clear the student did his homework.
“Sears dribbles from left to right up the court and then he typically pretends to drive but then attempts a step back three, I wanted to take the three away,” said Mashack.
Mark Sears also did not get any help from his team as he was the only Alabama player with double digit points compared to four Tennessee Volunteers (Knecht, Gainey, Aidoo, and Vescovi) that had double digit points. Heading into the match Alabama was second in the SEC with a 4-0 record and Tennessee was third in the conference with a 3-1 record. Auburn had a dominant victory at home over Ole Miss to be the last SEC undefeated in the conference and solely be in first place and Tennessee with this win will likely move into second place. Auburn will not play Tennessee until February 28th when they meet in Knoxville and that could be the SEC game of the year.
Tennessee’s next game is against arch rival Vanderbilt in Nashville on Saturday January 27th and the Commodores are currently winless in the SEC and only have five total wins on the year.
Alabama’s next game is against arch rival #13 ranked Auburn in Tuscaloosa on Wednesday January 24th and the Tigers are undefeated in the SEC and are the first place SEC team heading into that matchup.