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Jonas Aidoo emerging at the right time for Tennessee

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Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Jonas Aidoo was essentially written off for the year. A slow start out of the gates due to an undisclosed illness had the four-star freshman center behind, and once the season got rolling, it seemed unlikely that he would catch up.

And then Olivier Nkamhoua went down with an ankle injury — and Rick Barnes had no choice. Uros Plavsic, Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and John Fulkerson couldn’t handle all of the minutes, and Barnes had just one option left to supplement with.

As it turns out, Aidoo has done more than supplement. He was a legitimate impact player against Kentucky, helping to shut down potential player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe on Tuesday night.

Aidoo only scored five points, but his seven rebounds and three blocks gave Tennessee an inside presence that they badly needed against the best frontcourt player in America.

“Early in the year, he missed a lot of the preseason,” Barnes said. “The last couple weeks, maybe three, you could just feel it was starting to click for him. He still needs to be a little bit sharper on some of the things we need from him on the offensive end. What he does around the rim, he does have good feel. He has got great hands. He is long. He can block shots. We have watched him do it in practice. Guys were telling him tonight just go get it and he did that a few times.”

The 6-11, 235 pound Aidoo has stepped up to the plate and delivered for this program. He was expected to give a few minutes here and there down the stretch of this season, but he wasn’t expected to be the most impactful big man on the floor against Kentucky. His 18 minutes were huge on Tuesday night, and it’s got us rethinking this rotation going forward.

Nick tweeted this out last night after Aidoo’s performance, and it’s worth thinking about. This team lacks a dominant rebounder and rim protector, and Aidoo flashed both of those abilities last night.

Whatever Barnes decides to do with him going forward, he’s going to be a massive part of Tennessee’s run towards the tournament. There was plenty of concern when Nkamhoua went down, but Aidoo’s emergence has eased those worries.

Tennessee is rolling right now — let’s see if they can keep it going in the always hostile Bud Walton Arena on Saturday afternoon.