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Dalton Knecht continues to carry Tennessee

What a streak.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Another day, another 30+ point outing for Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht. The Volunteers pulled away for good midway through the second half in Nashville against Vanderbilt, which gave Tennessee their best shot early on.

And then Dalton Knecht happened. Again.

He turned in his fifth straight game with more than 25 points on Saturday night, ending the game with 32. He hit on 13-21 shooting from the field, including 3-7 from three-point range. All of that despite going just 3-7 from the free-throw line.

As if all that wasn’t enough, Knecht added six rebounds, three assists and three blocks.

“The fact is, Dalton’s teammates, they have confidence and we all do,” Rick Barnes said after the game. “And but we still, honestly, we think he can get better and the more we play the better he’s going to get.”

Knecht was swarmed by the media — and his teammates — after the game, making for an entertaining presser.

“Just finding my groove and I just got hot,” Knecht said of his second half. “And my teammates kept feeding me the ball. So shoutout to my teammates and the coaching staff for just putting me in the right spots.”

It was just one year ago where Tennessee lost in that same Memorial Gym. But this year’s team has something last year’s didn’t, and that’s obviously a true alpha scorer in Knecht. It’s something that Tennessee has been missing for several years now, dating back to the days of Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams. Even then, this program hasn’t quite seen a player of Knecht’s offensive caliber.

How many times have we sat here and said ‘this team just doesn’t have that guy that can go win you the game’? That’s been the case the past few years and the Volunteers have ultimately paid the price with disappointing losses in March.

And then you start to look ahead to this year. Tennessee has a bunch of guys have have been there and done all of that, and now they’re armed with perhaps the best player in the country on top of that. That’s an exciting thought as tournament time approaches.

For Knecht, a Wooden Award campaign has officially been launched. Name recognition might hurt him a bit as he squares off against Purdue’s Zach Edey, who won the award last season. Edey is no slouch, averaging over 22 points per game and putting up 30+ in three of his last four outings. But if Knecht can keep up this pace and lead Tennessee through the SEC, he’ll be right there by the end of the season.

“It’s crazy,” Knecht said of his recent scoring streak. “I mean, I love it here. I wish I had a couple more years to play with my teammates. And it’s just a blessing. I try to take it all in as much as I can.”