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Tennessee runs past Tennessee Tech in the opener, 80-42

Easy night.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee Tech at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

A bit of a slow start offensively didn’t last for Tennessee basketball on Monday night. The Volunteers, hosting Tennessee Tech for their opening game of the 2023-24 season, scored four points through the first six minutes of play. They’d end up with 41 in the first half, however.

The offense caught fire once Josiah-Jordan James hit the first three of the night. He’d hit two more in the first half, while Dalton Knecht would join him with two of his own.

Zakai Zeigler, who tore his ACL back in March, entered the game with 13 minutes left in the first as a part of the first platoon change for Tennessee. Zeigler has been close to being back to 100 percent for a few weeks now, but the staff played it safe and saved him for the regular season.

Zeigler finished the night with 13 minutes, three points and three assists.

Cade Phillips, Tobe Awaka, Freddie Dilione were the first ones off the bench with Zeigler, quickly joined by Jordan Gainey. Gainey, another transfer pick-up, was aggressive on the offensive end. He hit a three of his own, then connected on two more shots to go 3-3 from the field in the first half. Gainey went on a 7-0 run by himself.

Tennessee’s patented defense was on display in a big way to open this one. All of Tennessee’s post players that entered the game blocked at least one shot in the first half. The Volunteers forced ten turnovers, helping to create ten fastbreak points on the other end of the floor.

Tennessee took a 41-12 lead into the halftime break, with this one pretty much already wrapped up. The Vols started slow once again in the second half, slowing down the pace from fast end to the first.

Zeigler got things going once again though, hitting a three for his first bucket of the night.

Tennessee cruised and emptied the bench from there, getting minutes for Cameron Carr, DJ Jefferson, Freddie Dilone and Cade Phillips down the stretch.

Final score: Tennessee 80, Tennessee Tech 42

Quick thoughts

  • I thought Jonas Aidoo had a really nice night as a true rim protector. Tennessee Tech’s 7-3 center couldn’t do anything with him all night long, despite plenty of opportunities. He ended with eight rebounds and four blocks.
  • Freddie Dilione didn’t do much with the starters, but he was able to get plenty of minutes in the second half. It’s been a bit of a slow start, but he was able to see a couple of shots go down late in the game. With Zeigler now officially back, it’s going to be interesting to see where he settles into the rotation.
  • Cade Phillips can play — and he will apparently have a decent role on this team early and often. That’s been the thought through the preseason, and it’s certainly holding true so far. Phillips was among the first platoon change for Tennessee and looks really impressive athletically, almost immediately skying for a block.
  • Jordan Gainey certainly isn’t scared. He’s got the full green light, and his aggressive mentality is something this program desperately needed. Dalton Knecht has some of that same mentality too.
  • Speaking of Knecht, he’s just different. 6-6, big time shooting, ability to finish — he’s a guy Tennessee can lean on in crunch time. Barnes even praised his defensive effort, which was clearly a point of emphasis over the summer months. Knecht led Tennessee with 17 points on 6-11 shooting from the floor.

Tennessee will return to action on Friday night at Wisconsin.