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HOOPS RECAP: Vols stop the slide, smother No. 1 ranked Alabama into a 68-59 win

What a game from young Jonas Aidoo

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

Without two critical starters — Josiah-Jordan James and Julian Phillips — Tennessee’s defense suffocated Alabama’s offense into 19 turnovers, turned those into 26 points and beat the No. 1 ranked Tide, 68-58.

Even without James and Phillips, the Volunteer offense came out swinging against Alabama, as Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Ziegler both hit 3-pointers in the first two minutes of the game.

A possession before the under-16 media break, Olivier Nkamhoua had an opportunity for an and-1 play when he finished through contact at the rim, but he missed the free throw. Tennessee led 8-7 at the 15:21 mark.

A Ziegler 3 gave the Vols an 11-7 lead on a second-chance possession, but Bama’s Brandon Miller answered immediately with a 3 of his own on the Tide’s next trip down the floor.

Around the 12:17 mark, a Ziegler steal and runout pass led to a Tyreke Key layup, as the Vols clung to a 13-12 lead through a stretch of Alabama turning the ball over on three-straight possessions.

Jonas Aidoo hit an uncontested free-throw line jumper after the media break and scored again on a tip-in as the shot clock was expiring around the 10-minute mark. Bama made a layup in between the two possessions, but then committed its eighth turnover of the half with 9:17 left until halftime. The Vols had 10 points off those turnovers at this point in the game.

The Tide got to the FT line on its next possession, but managed to hit just one of two attempts.

UT took a 19-15 lead on a Vescovi-to-Nkamhoua, pick-and-roll, lob alley-oop into the under-eight-minute media timeout. That made for the Vols’ seventh assist on their eighth made basket.

Tennessee’s offense made a genuine attempt to get Key going early, but he missed his sixth of seven shots, and Alabama answered with a 3 two possessions later to make it 19-18 Vols.

Ziegler broke a 1-10 shooting stretch for the Vols with his third 3 of the first half with about five minutes left, and then he assisted on an Uros Plavsic layup the next trip down the floor. Plavsic scored on another layup on a subsequent possession, giving Tennessee a 26-18 lead. Right before the under-four break, Alabama cut the lead to 26-20 with an alley-oop of its own.

This first 17-ish minutes of the game makes Vol fans wonder how the last 10 days went the way they went. UT’s ball pressure was giving Alabama fits, and Tennessee was turning those into points. But it’s worth noting — the officiating was, let’s say, loose. The refs were letting them play, and that sorta whistle favors UT’s brand of physical defense.

After the break, Bama got to the free-throw line four times in 1.5 minutes and hit all four of its attempts, cutting Tennessee’s lead back down to 26-24.

Key drew a foul and hit both of his FTs at the two-minute mark, putting Tennessee back up four, and the Vols’ ball pressure induced an Alabama timeout on the subsequent inbounds.

After Tennessee gave up a fast-break layup, Olivier Nkamhoua drew a foul on Miller but, again, only hit one of his two free throws.

With 40 seconds left, Aidoo missed a dunk through significant contact, then Jahmai Mashack got called for a foul on an Alabama layup attempt that gave the Tide two freebies, of which they hit one. At this juncture, Tennessee hadn’t scored in more than four minutes, and Bama managed to tie the game at 29 by hitting four of its last five shots.

Tennessee shot just 30 percent (11-37) from the field in the game’s first 20 minutes, while Alabama knocked down 43 percent of its looks. The Vols’ defense turned the Tide over 12 times in the first half and stayed in the game by scoring 17 points off those giveaways. Key and Vescovi combined for seven points on 2-13 shooting. Awaka missed two free throws, too, meaning the Vols left four points on the board by shooting just 3-7 from the charity stripe.

UT opened the second half with another lob to Nkamhoua, a steal on defense, a layup from Aidoo and another dunk from Olivier. Bama managed a 3 during this sequence, at some point.

Leading 33-31, Santi forced another Tide turnover with some excellent defense along the far baseline, and then he hit a corner 3 on the free possession. 36-31 Vols with 16:30 left.

Miller hit an uncontested 3 — Bilas said he hits 70 percent on uncontested 3s... it’s really unfortunate that Brandon Miller is from Tennessee, and with how hard we recruited him for him to end up at Alabama — but Vescovi answered with his second-straight 3 of the half, and the Vols led 38-34 at the under-16 timeout.

Tennessee tried hitting the Tide with a 2-3 zone, and Alabama hit two consecutive 3s against it. Layups from Plavsic and Awaka kept the Vols with the 42-40 lead with 13 minutes remaining.

A Plavsic banked-in free-throw added another point to Tennessee’s lead, then an empty Bama possession translated into lots of dribbling and two made Ziegler free throws on the other end. The Vols turned it over on an over-and-back call and went into the under-12 break up 44-40. At this point, the Alabama offense was in the midst of a two-minute plus scoring drought.

Tennessee came out of the break and forced a missed layup, and then Vescovi hit another corner 3 off a Ziegler assist. Of course, Alabama hit a 3 on its next possession, too.

With 9:34 left, Aidoo made another uncontested free-throw line jump shot, and Mashack drew an offensive foul on Miller for another Bama turnover.

At the 8:18 mark, Aidoo beautifully blocked an Alabama layup attempt and quickly got the ball into the post, where Nkamhoua drew a foul and hit both of his free throws, giving Tennessee a 51-45 lead when the broadcast cut to commercials for the under-eight media timeout. The Vols had the lead stretched to eight points, but gave up a layup before the break.

With 6:45 left, the Vols ran a play that gave Key a wide-open look from 3, but he missed it and Aidoo committed an over-the-back foul on the rebound attempt. Tough night for Tyreke.

A minute later, Aidoo hit a layup that put Tennessee up 53-45. But on Alabama’s next possession, Aidoo picked up his fourth foul and left the game, while the Tide hit its two free throws.

Tennessee got the ball down to Plavsic down low with Miller on him, and Uros hit the layup, drew Miller’s fourth foul and hit the free throw. Bama again answered with another 3-pointer. 56-50 Vols with five minutes left.

The Vols offense didn’t show much fluidity on its next possession, but Ziegler ended up taking it to the hoop, got fouled and hit both FTs.

Bama made two FTs — from a 62-percent free-throw shooter —next, and then Alabama’s defense forced a Mashack air-ball layup/ turnover and will get the ball after the under-four break, with UT leading 58-53. There was a foul called somewhere, and the Tide hit its two FTs cutting the lead to 58-54 with 3:20 left.

Aidoo tipped in a missed layup on offense then blocked Bama’s attempt at the rim on the other end of the floor. Vols up 60-54 with 2:37 remaining in the game. Regardless of how the game turns out, Tennessee’s young sophomore big man was a PRESENCE protecting the rim and rebounding the ball. At this point in the game, Aidoo was tied for the team-lead in points, he was the team’s leading rebounder with 11 and the leading shot-blocker with three.

Ziegler got Miller switched onto him and hit a layup high up off the glass with 2:12 left that put UT up 62-54.

Vescovi got to the line with 1:12 left for a one-and-one and clanked the front end, again. Starting to worry about Vescovi’s confidence at the free-throw line late in games.

Ziegler hit one of two with 51 seconds left, but on its next possession, Alabama turned it over, again, and Miller was forced to foul Vescovi to stop the clock with 41 seconds left.

This time, Santi hit both attempts that iced the game for the Vols.


  • I hope this is Jonas Aidoo’s arrival. The metrics show it on the defensive end— he’s a top-30 rated shot blocker per-40 minutes, but tonight we saw some of the touch I’ve been waiting for. He’s made the occasional open 3 from the top of the key this season, and tonight he hit a couple jumpers from the free-throw line en route to finishing second on the team with 12 points on 6-11 shooting. He led the team with three blocks, but his presence affected several more Bama shot attempts near the hoop. Aidoo also led the team with 11 rebounds, four of which came on the offensive glass. Oh, and he added a steal, too
  • The refs let these two teams play. It was a physical game, and those games benefit the Vols’ defense. Would-be reach-in fouls are steals instead, and tonight, Tennessee turned those kinda giveaways into 26 points off turnovers
  • UT wins when its guards are hitting shots. Ziegler and Vescovi tied for the team-lead in points with 15 each. 12 of Santi’s 15 points came in the second half. They each hit three 3s and accounted for all of the Vols’ points from behind the arc. Ziegler continues to grow into the true, table-setting, offensive-initiator role that this team drastically needs. He had eight assists to go with his 15 points and is averaging more than seven assists per-game in SEC play. The exception: Key went 1-9 from the field and missed all three of his 3-pointers
  • Uros Plavsic had another effective game, scoring 10 points on 4-4 shooting. He even hit two of his three free-throw attempts! When he gets deep post position, he’s developed decent touch on his layup/ baby hooks at the hoop. He’s just gotta keep his emotions in check, to a degree...