Zakai Zeigler said recently that “he’s back.” Tonight, he backed it up.
Zeigler had 17 points on 6-12 shooting, including a 5-10 effort from deep. He added four assists and four steals, too.
The Vols started the game like they’d been on a break, as Jonas Aidoo missed two consecutive layups and then threw the ball away on the break after a Spartans’ missed shot.
Josiah-Jordan James scored UT’s first points on a 3, then Tobe Awaka scored four-straight, with one coming off an offensive rebound.
Tennessee’s defense created three turnovers and turned those giveaways into six points, three of those off Santiago Vescovi’s first deep ball of the game, before the broadcast went to break with around 15 minutes left in the half.
Even Jahmai Mashack got in on the action with his fourth made 3 of the season to give the Vols a 16-5 lead with a little more than 14 minutes remaining.
Norfolk Southern’s Allen Betrand hit a runner in the lane to cut the lead down to 16-9, while the UT offense was in the midst of a 0-4 stretch that spanned more than three minutes after the Vols turned it over on the subsequent offensive possession.
At the 10:50 mark, Aidoo missed another layup and extended the Vols’ scoreless stretch to 4:26 on just 1-10 shooting during a five-ish minute span.
Freshman Cameron Carr got some early run, entering the game around the 10-minute mark. But he also missed an easy alley-oop opportunity off an Aidoo pass. Regardless, glad to see Carr getting some minutes — I’d like to see him playing in some League games. With 8:41 left, Tennessee led 17-9.
Vescovi’s second 3 of the game — and just 16th of the year — dropped with 8:32 left, but Norfolk answered right back with a 3 of its own. Knecht followed with his third make from downtown in four games with an open jumper from the far-side wing. Fingers crossed he gets things rolling again.
Tennessee took a 29-18 lead when Knecht snagged a defensive board, pushed the pace and gave an alley to Cade Phillips’ oop. Both freshmen bigs — Phillips and JP Estrella — run the floor well, and this time, Phillips got rewarded for it.
The easy two from Phillips pushed Tennessee’s lead to 31-18 with just fewer than four minutes until halftime.
Two made free throws from Knecht and subsequent a steal on a sidelines-out-of-bounds play by Zakai Zeigler led to Zeigler’s first 3 of the game and a 36-18 Vols’ lead. James blocked a Spartans’ shot at the rim, Knecht came down with the board and tossed a lead pass to Phillips for another easy two at the rim.
Norfolk went zone on UT’s next possession, and a Zeigler-to-Knecht alley-oop made it a 15-0 run over the past five minutes and a 20-2 run in the last seven-ish minutes.
The Vols held for the final shot, and Knecht sliced into the lane, kicked it out to Santi and Vescovi hit the buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Vescovi went 3-3 from deep in the first half with nine points, but Knecht led the team with 13 points on 4-9 shooting and 4-4 from the charity stripe. Knecht also tied for the team lead with four assists, and he accounted for — in one way or another — for 18 of UT’s final 23 first-half points. The squad finished the first half with 12 assists on 15 made baskets.
The Spartans opened the second half with the first made basket... their first bucket in 18 minutes of game time. UT fouled them on their next possession, they made 1-2 and cut the lead to 43-21.
An Aidoo dunk ended the 3-0 run, and then Zeigler hit his second 3 of the game for eight total points to go with his four assists and two steals.
Around the 15;30 mark, we got an Aidoo microcosm, as he flushed an alley-oop from Santi but turned it over on UT’s next possession.
On the next trip down the floor, he got the ball in the paint and instead of going straight up, he brought the ball down around his waist and got stripped. Either way, 50-23 Vols.
The Vols scored just seven points over the next 4.5 minutes and led 57-29 at the under-12 timeout.
A Knecht laser from the top of the key to Mashack in the corner led to another Volunteer 3 and Mashack’s career-high in a single game (2). With just under nine minutes to play, Tennessee held its largest lead of the game — 66-31.
Zeigler’s fifth 3 went down after the TV timeout, and since the Illinois game, he’s scored 10 or more in four of five games with combined 51 points, counting tonight’s unfinished 17 with 10 made 3s. 72-35 Vols.
The Vols’ lead made it to 80-46 by the under-four broadcast timeout, as Awaka will go to the line to try and finish an and-1 chance at the free-throw line. He missed the initial shot off a brilliant, no-look pass from Mashack, but collected his sixth offensive rebound and 11th total and made the put back. He hit the FT after the timeout. Freddie Dilione scored his fourth point of the game on a dunk, and Phillips followed with two made FTs.
Stats and other things of note
- UT had 23 assists on 30 made baskets
- The team shot 45 percent from the field, hit 12-33 (36 percent) from deep and 15-17 (88 percent) from the FT line
- Three Vols scored in double figures — Zeigler with 17 on 50 percent shooting and five 3s; Knecht had 15, hitting 40 percent from the field and going 6-6 from the FT line; Tobe Awaka had a double double with 10 points, 11 rebounds (six offensive)
- Zeigler added four assists and four steals.
- James scored just eight points but had seven rebounds, five assists and zero TOs
- 12 of the 14 Vols who played scored at least once