Vols handle George Mason

Published 11:13 am Thursday, December 7, 2023

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Playing its first home game in three weeks, the University of Tennessee men’s basketball defeated George Mason, 87-66, Tuesday night at Food City Center.

Junior forward Jonas Aidoo paced No. 17 Tennessee (5-3) with a career- and game-best 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, adding a game-leading eight rebounds and a career-high-tying four assists, as the Volunteers trailed for just 51 seconds.

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Following a 1-of-9 start from long range, Tennessee connected on 3-pointers on three consecutive possessions—two by junior guard Zakai Zeigler sandwiched around one by Aidoo—to go ahead by seven, 26-19, with 5:31 left in the opening half.

After that, the Volunteers extended their edge to nine on four occasions, but did not push it to double figures until the final minute of the frame. They closed the session on a 6-0 run in the final 1:12, including a buzzer-beating layup by junior guard Jordan Gainey, to take a 13-point lead, 39-26, at the break.

Tennessee shot 51.6 percent (16-of-31) from the field in the initial 20 minutes while holding George Mason (7-2) to a 36.0 percent (9-of-25) clip at the other end. It also had an 8-0 advantage in first-half fast-break points and a 13-2 margin in assists while committing just three turnovers and forcing seven.

The Volunteers scored seven points in the first 78 seconds of the second half to make it 13 in a row in exactly 2:30 over both halves, with the surge putting them up by 20. Several minutes later, they pushed the lead to 25 points, 61-36, with 12:52 on a three-point play by sophomore forward Tobe Awaka in his first game back from a right ankle injury.

Tennessee extended its lead as high as 26, as its second-largest mark in any outing this season, on the way to the 21-point win, tied for its second-largest of 2023-24.

Aidoo, who connected on both his 3-point attempts, had three teammates join him in double digits. Fifth-year guard Josiah-Jordan James totaled 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting to go along with a career-high-tying six assists. Awaka finished with 11 points and a season-best seven rebounds, while fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht notched 10 points.

Senior guard Darius Maddox led the Patriots with 15 points, shooting 5-of-11 from the floor and 3-of-6 beyond the arc. Senior guard/forward Woody Newton recorded 13 points on a 4-of-5 field-goal clip and freshman guard Baraka Okojie logged 11 points.

Additionally, Tennessee limited George Mason’s leading scorer Keyshawn Hall, a sophomore guard/forward who came in averaging 15.1 points per game, to just eight on 3-of-13 shooting.

The Volunteers concluded the night with a plus-17 margin in rebounding, 43-27, and a plus-16 ledger in paint points, 40-24. They also were plus-12 in fast-break points, 15-3, and plus-eight in second-chance points, 10-2. The victors posted 27 assists and just nine turnovers, while George Mason, which shot 11-of-25 (44.0 percent) on 3-pointers, had 11 assists and 14 giveaways.

Up next for Tennessee is its fourth top-20 showdown in a five-game stretch, as it faces No. 20 Illinois at Food City, with tip-off set for Saturday at noon on CBS.