Knecht Carries Vols Past Pearl and Plainsmen

Photo by University of Tennessee Athletics (@Vol_Hoops)

By Matthew Silitsky

KNOXVILLE, Tenn – No. 4 Tennessee (22-6, 12-3) pulled out a win in a 92-84 conference thriller versus No. 11 Auburn (21-7, 10-5) at the Food City Center on Wednesday.

An incredibly competitive first half to say the least. While it was not a low scoring half, no bucket was easy to come by. 

“Nothing easy came on either end, it just seemed like everything was contested.” said Vols head coach Barnes.

Barnes talked a lot about the competitive nature of the game in his post-game press conference, giving Tigers head coach Bruce Pearl a lot of credit.

The first half was defined by the inability to hold onto the ball. 

Auburn finished the half with 10 turnovers while Tennessee had nine. Tennessee converted on Tiger turnovers totaling 11 points after 20 minutes of play.

The game plan seemed like it was going to be a battle inside from both clubs. Most shots on the perimeter came from the inside out. The Vols tried to feed Jonas Aidoo in the post early on, but the Tiger defense’s denial of entry passes led to an abundance of turnovers.

After a while, Aidoo managed to get position inside and started scoring. Aidoo had some trouble with fouls but had a solid evening overall, finishing the night with 14 & seven. 

“When he fights for that (position), that’s when he’s really effective when he gets his space. Jonas is just going to continue to improve. Jonas can knock those 10, 15 (footers).” Barnes said  “Jonas can make the three too, he knows when to shoot it, when not to, he’s got great touch.” 

Nothing too special about the first half of basketball, unless you consider the 500-replica striped warm up pants they gave out prior to the game that students went berserk for. Tennessee went into the half up four, 44 to 40.

Second half basketball, or as fans are calling it, “The Knecht Show,” is what makes college basketball so entertaining. The second half saw a back-and-forth game with bodies hitting the deck and of course, some high tempers and a juiced crowd.

Four lead changes and two ties in the final 20 minutes of play had Vol fans on their feet for a majority of it. 

Things really took a turn in the Vols favor when Dalton Knecht took the reins and never looked back.

“I think once I saw one go in from three, the rim got bigger.” said Knecht.

Knecht had 39 points on the night, 27 of them coming in half number two. Knecht had the ball in his hands for most of the time down the stretch and used his hot hand in numerous one-on-one possessions.

Scoring inside, outside, and everything in between was no problem for the second leading scorer in the SEC. 

“I mean we sent a double a couple of times, we got a turnover, we sent a double, one time he passed out of it and got a dunk. I think I felt like we had guys that could guard him,” said Tigers coach Bruce Pearl.

To no end a very entertaining game. Even though the defense was tough, baskets were falling, but ultimately, the Tennessee defense prevailed. 

“You score 84 points, on the road, playing for a championship, that has got to be enough to win.” Pearl said.

All in all, a really well-rounded game for the Vols in front of a sold out, and extremely loud crowd. For Zakai Zeigler, his numbers might not jump out on the stat sheet, but still managed to be a key contributor.

Zeigler finished with 17 points, four rebounds, and nine assists. Teammate Dalton Knecht gave him an A- for his performance in tonight’s contest. 

In case you are wondering, Zeigler gave Knecht an A+ for his career high performance.

The Vols certainly do not have a cake walk of a schedule ahead of them.

Tennessee will continue the gauntlet with a trip to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. ESPN’s College Gameday will be covering the festivities leading up to the game as well as the game broadcast.