Tennessee rolls Tide, 91-71

Published 12:21 pm Monday, January 22, 2024

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In a matchup of two teams in the top seven of the KenPom national rankings, the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team turned in an impressive 91-71 victory Saturday afternoon over Alabama.

Fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht dropped 25 points, becoming the first SEC player in over three years with four straight 25-point outings, as No. 6/7 Tennessee (14-4, 4-1 SEC) claimed a wire-to-wire triumph at a sold-out Food City Center.

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The Volunteers scored 16 of the game’s opening 23 points, en route to building a 14-point edge, 30-16, with 8:44 on the first-half ticker. At that time, Knecht (nine) and junior forward Jonas Aidoo (10) had more combined points than the Crimson Tide, which then had just one point and four turnovers—already tied for his second-most in a full game this season—from senior guard Mark Sears, the SEC’s leading scorer.

Alabama (12-6, 4-1 SEC) twice cut the deficit to nine, but Tennessee responded to thrice stretch it all the way to 16. The Crimson Tide scored six consecutive points in 91 seconds to get within three, but a 3-pointer by junior guard Jordan Gainey, who had 13 first-half points off the bench, made it a 13-point margin, 50-37, at the break.

Tennessee committed just four turnovers and went 19-of-40 (47.5 percent) in the first half to tie its most makes in any frame this season, while also notching nine steals and forcing 13 Crimson Tide turnovers at the other end.

The Volunteers held Alabama scoreless for a stretch of 3:48 early in the second half and scored six straight points in 1:58 during that span to claim a then-game-best 18-point advantage, 59-41, with 15:18 to go.

Tennessee eclipsed the 20-point margin for the first time, 73-52, with 8:36 remaining and pushed its edge all the way to 27, 81-54, with 5:29 to go after scoring eight straight points in 1:46. The Crimson Tide never got any closer the rest of the way, as Tennessee earned its third SEC home win by 19-plus in as many opportunities.

The Volunteers led for all but 37 seconds and held a double-digit advantage for the final 26:18 of the contest. Their 20-point win was the largest by any SEC team over the Crimson Tide since Feb. 2, 2019.

Knecht, who went 8-of-8 at the line just four days after hitting all nine of his free-throw attempts, led a quartet of double-digit Tennessee scorers. He scored 17 of his points in the first half alone.

Aidoo recorded 19 points for the second consecutive contest, shooting 9-of-14 from the field, while also blocking a game-high four shots. Gainey totaled 15 points, a season-high five rebounds and a season-best three steals. He went 3-of-5 from beyond the arc and 4-of-4 at the free-throw line.

Fifth-year guard Santiago Vescovi, who moved into ninth place on the SEC’s all-time 3-point leaderboard, added 10 points, a co-season-best five assists and two steals, with no turnovers. Junior guard Zakai Zeigler notched eight points, a game-best six assists and a season-high-tying four steals, while also committing no giveaways.

Sears finished as the lone player with over eight points for Alabama, KenPom’s top-ranked offense in the country. After Tennessee held him scoreless for the first 10-plus minutes, Sears ended up with 22 points, although he went just 1-of-3 from 3-point range. The Volunteers also forced him in to seven turnovers, his co-second-most as a collegian and his highest mark in two seasons at Alabama.

Tennessee forced 22 Alabama turnovers in total, the highest ledger for the Crimson Tide in a regulation affair since Feb. 12, 2022. It also marked the first time in nearly 17 years Alabama committed 20-plus turnovers with a margin of -15 or worse, with the last occurrence also at Tennessee on Feb. 21, 2007, in a game that went to overtime.

The victors, meanwhile, committed just seven turnovers and dished out 21 assists on their 32 made baskets, as well as registered a 23-4 edge in points off giveaways. Additionally, Tennessee held Alabama to just 4-of-21 (19.0 percent) 3-point shooting, its second-lowest mark of the season.

The Volunteers now have a midweek bye before resuming play Saturday at 6 p.m. ET in Nashville, Tenn., against Vanderbilt, live on SEC Network from Memorial Gymnasium.