The Tennessee Volunteers had one last chance to snare an impressive preseason win for their tournament resume, and this time they didn’t miss.
The #17 Vols defeated #20 Illinois 86-79 on Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena. Dalton Knecht led the Vols with 21 points and 4 rebounds. Terrence Shannon, Jr. and Quincy Gerrier both led the Illini with 22 points each.
The first half was a see-saw affair, as the Vols led by as many as 8 points early at 28-20 after Santiago Vescovi splashed home a three pointer. However, Illinois would go on a 16-6 run to take a 36-34 lead into the locker room, led by three-point shots by Coleman Hawkins, Gerrier, and Luke Goode.
Knecht led the Vols at the half with 8 points on 3-5 shooting, while Santiago Vescovi - of all people - had a game-high 7 rebounds to go with 7 points. Illinois’ Gerrier led all scorers with 12 at the break.
The Vols continued to chase the Illini early in the second half until they went up for good at 45-44 on an emphatic slam by Josiah-Jordan James that energized the home crowd. A long three from the top of the key by Knecht pushed the lead to 50-44, and the Vols would manage to keep the Illini largely at bay as they continued to slowly grow their lead up to double digits, which they reached at 67-57 after a jumper and layup by Jahmai Mashack with 7:35 left.
The Illini managed to provide a couple of scares in the game’s final minute. At 79-72, James’ pass to Jordan Gainey was intercepted and laid in to cut the lead to five, but the Vols managed to break the press and just beat the ten second count. Two Zakai Ziegler free throws followed to push the lead to 81-74, and an Illinois turnover gave it back to Tennessee with 38 seconds left.
However, an and-one foul by Jonas Aidoo on Terrance Shannon, Jr. brought Illinois back to 83-77 with 25 seconds left. After James made one of two three throws, a running layup by Shannon brought it to 84-79. Goode was then called for a foul on Ziegler, who appeared to slip and fall at the Illinois bench, who went crazy at the call. Ziegler was able to knock down both free throws, and after Shannon missed a layup, James rebounded and ran the clock out.
Up next: Tennessee hosts Georgia Southern on December 12 at 7:00 pm; Illinois hosts Colgate on December 17 at 1:00 pm/