Photo by Riley Haltom (@rileyhaltom on X)
By Matthew Silitsky
KNOXVILLE, Tenn – No. 6 Tennessee (17-5, 7-2) won in total team fashion, 88-68 against LSU (12-10, 4-5) at the Food City Center on Wednesday.
The Vols took the reins and never looked back in the first half. A collective effort from Dalton Knecht, Zakai Zeigler, and Jordan Gainey combined for 35 of Tennessee’s 50 first half points.
At this point in the season, fans are accustomed to watching Knecht take over the offense while the rest of the team watches. To much surprise, Knecht finished with five assists after 20. The Tigers offense never clicked from the get-go and their defense was just as absent.
The Vols’ biggest first half asset was their defense, holding a potent Tigers offense that averages just above 77 points a game to just 27. A mixture of great rotational defense, playing the gaps and help with great pressure, and defending without fouling was key.
To start the second half, the Vols had trouble getting the offense into a rhythm, scoring just two baskets in the first four minutes. The defense was not as physical as it was the first 20 minutes of play. The Vols gambled multiple times on attempted steals; while it worked on the first few occasions, it did not work out in the long run.
The Tiger brought their 23-point deficit down to eight. The Vols offense looked similar to last year for a majority of the half, scoring in bunches. Shots that dropped for the Vols in the first half did not fall in the second.
Aside from being outrebounded on the glass 40-26, the Vols played an all-around strong basketball game. They finished 55.4% from the field and 45.8% from three, despite going four of 15 in the second half.
Knecht had his most versatile game of the season, finishing with 27 points, seven rebounds, six assists (season high), two steals, and three blocks (tied for season high).
Zeigler had an exceptional game with 17 points, nine assists, and five steals (tied career high).
Certainly, the unexpected spotlight of the night goes to Jordan Gainey. It was a huge game on the stat sheet for Gainey, but it was his defense that has improved tremendously.
“He has really worked on being an all-around player, he has just gotten so much better as a defender since he arrived. He has made it a priority.” said Vols head coach Barnes.
Gainey finished the night with 18 points on six of nine shooting to go along with three assists and three steals (tied season high).
The Vols will play on the road at Texas A&M Saturday at 8 p.m. ET at Reed Arena. The game will air on ESPN.