It was quite the debut for Tennessee wing Dalton Knecht in the Vols’ 89-88 exhibition win over No. 4 Michigan State on Sunday afternoon.
The Northern Colorado transfer totaled 28 points (8-of-16 FG, 3-of-9 3PT), seven rebounds and four assists while playing 34 minutes at the Breslin Center.
Knecht has generated strong buzz all preseason but did Rick Barnes see this type of performance coming? Yes and no.
“No, I haven’t seen that,” Barnes said postgame. “I’ll be honest with you, I mean, offensively yes, I have.”
Barnes hadn’t seen what Knecht did on the defensive end of the court. During last Wednesday’s practice open to the media, the ninth-year Tennessee coach was quite critical of Knecht’s defensive effort. And that is the nice way of phrasing it.
Knecht’s effort and intensity was clear on both the defensive side of the ball and on the glass. The concern for the Northern Colorado transfer was whether he could hold up defensively against more athletic and physical players. So far, so good.
“The way he came out and played defensive (to) start the game I have not seen that at any point in time, which is a good thing because it’s on film now,” Barnes said. “And he’s raised the bar, which is a good thing. Because I think he proved to himself today that if he wants to lock in and get it done, he can. As a coaching staff, what we want see him is to play that hard defensively.”
The defense surprised Barnes but as the ninth-year and that’s what the ninth-year coach was looking for. He’s not concerned about Knecht’s offense.
Knecht’s shooting was well known when he transferred to Tennessee after shooting 37% from deep on 335 total three-point attempts in two seasons against Northern Colorado.
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The 6-foot-6 wing hit three triples against Michigan State but also created his own shot by getting to the basket in half court and by scoring effectively in transition.
“We think offensively that he’s an extremely gifted player,” Barnes said. “His offense is gonna take care of itself. It is. But that’s the hardest I’ve seen him play defensively at any point in time since he’s been with us.”
Knecht scored in transition in a number of ways but that buries the lede. The wing had maybe the dunk of the season before November by putting Michigan State star Malik Hall on a poster with this transition dunk.
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) October 29, 2023
While Knecht’s overall offensive performance didn’t surprise Barnes, the ferocious slam did.
“What did surprise me was Dalton Knecht,” Barnes said. “That dunk he had, that one surprised me, kind of brought me back to my playing days, you know?”
Knecht and the Vols return to the court Tuesday night in their final preseason tune up. The Vols host Lenori-Rhyne at Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center.