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What Tennessee Coach Rick Barnes Said After The Vols Defeated N.C. State

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

Tennessee basketball earned its fourth straight win on Saturday night as they outlasted a number of North Carolina State runs to earn a 79-70 victory in San Antonio.

Dalton Knecht and Jonas Aidoo turned in their worst games of the season but the Vols found other ways. Zakai Zeigler and Josiah-Jordan James carried the load offensively and Jahmai Mashack and Tobe Awaka also came up big.

After the win, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes discussed Zeigler’s play, the matchup game and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said.

More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways From Tennessee’s Win Over N.C. State
On Vol Network

Opening Statement

“Our older guys brought it home for us. Exactly the kind of game we thought we’d be in. Kevin Keats’ team, they get after it. They play you hard. They really work hard defensively. And obviously they played personnel. I told the team our older guys brought it home. They really did. And I thought Tobe (Awaka) stepped in there tonight and did a good job. Jonas (Aidoo), he didn’t practice yesterday. He wasn’t 100%, but early, he did a good job. Late in the game, he’s getting kind of pushed around back in there.”

“But Jahmai (Mashack), I mean, what can you say about him? Zakai, he was out there a long time tonight and did a great job controlling the game, really on both ends. And I thought the time when we actually went big when Santi (Vescovi) and Jo were on the bench with foul trouble, we stretched out there a little bit and we let them get back in it. We were up 11 and and they have a 20% shooter who hits a three at the shock clock. And I mean, that’s basketball, but a great win, it really is. They’re gonna win a lot of games in the ACC and I really like the way our guys handled it at the end. But really it’s great win.”

On Tennessee’s veterans leading the way after NC State came back to tie the game at 60

“I thought Josiah had a really solid game tonight. Santi, again, he does all the things that he needs to do. Tobe went in and gave us some really great minutes there. And, Jahmai, can’t say enough about him. Again, these are older guys. I mean, they’ve been in these battles … at the end of a game like that, you gotta get it done with your defense. And we did.”

On trying to match NC State personnel with different lineups and defensive assignments

“DJ Horne, started out, remember what, he had three threes, I think. I don’t know if he scored much after that. I thought we had different guys on him. Our ball-screen coverage was pretty good for the most part. We knew they were gonna really try to play through DJ Burns. But we also felt like if we could get the tempo we wanted, that maybe he might struggle to end the game. But really good win against an outstanding team and go home and have one more before Christmas and hope we can get that one done.”

On a team coming together in a win like that

“With these guys in the huddle at the end, they know what they have to do. I mean, they talked about it. They talked about it and (getting) stops, you know. They trust each other down there. They know that they’re going to cover each other’s back defensively. And they’ve been in a lot of these games and we found a way at the end. I thought Josiah made a big three, obviously, Zakai made a big three in the corner. But we were getting the penetration.”

“The one thing we’ve got to do a better job of, we’ve got to make layups, the ones that are uncontested. They’re not as easy as you might think, but it’s the uncontested ones. And early in the game, Josiah, I thought had a dunk and he kicked it out for a three. And ‘Z’ had wide open one, same thing. And it goes back, I think those guys are so unselfish and they do trust each other. And they do believe we can shoot the ball. But when you get those point-blank layups like that, you’ve got to take advantage of it.”

In postgame presser

On the importance of Zakai Zeigler’s play

“He really, in some ways, dominated the tempo and flow of the game in terms of what he did. The four steals were big in terms of disrupting them. You look at his line, it’s a great line, and you look at the fact that he got his players involved. He knew what he needed to do, his teammates. But it was our defense. The older guys closed it out at the end with their defense. But he was terrific tonight playing the most minutes he has all year. What did he get 38 (minutes)? That’s probably about 30 too many for him but we’ll let him do it if he does that. *laughs*”

On if he thinks Zakai Zeigler is 100% back yet

“Do I think he’s 100% physically? I don’t know if I’d say that but he’s close. He knows he’s close. But mentally, he’s definitely 100% back.”

On Tennessee’s veterans playing well after the poor second half Tuesday against Georgia Southern

“I said the other night I have so much confidence and respecting these guys and it’s their team. And they have been through a lot of games through the years and the other night I wanted to get that game over with, where there was no doubt, where those younger guys could play. And the older guys know that I wasn’t happy with them. But what they always do, they fixed it. They came out and we know that when we play teams like this, it’s going to be a physical game and these guys are used to it. And at the end I thought their composure, their togetherness on the bench was terrific. They knew what they had to do. I have to say very little during a timeout. They know and they both mentioned that they’re going to put it on their defense. And every guy we got out there was capable of making a shot and ‘Z’ made a big one, Jo made a big one. But we got the stops we needed,”

On Jonas Aidoo still being sick and Tobe Awaka playing important minutes in the second half 

“I do think Jonas was under the weather. And Jonas is a guy that he needed his reps in practice and he didn’t practice yesterday. Proud of Tobe. We got to get him involved more. You get him on that left, like that jump hook he was great. Great play by him. And we probably have more confidence in Tobe than he’s got himself in some ways. But Jonas fought through it. But Tobe, (I) know we put JP (Estrella) out there again, think we needed some length and even though it didn’t seem like much, it again tried to drag it out to where Jo and Santi, we didn’t even, we messed up on Jo’s foul (count). We didn’t know he had two in the first half. We thought Santi had two and that was our mistake. But there’s a really, a great team win. And again, really proud. As much as I was disappointed in the older guys the other night on that, proud him more because playing a tremendous team, plays hard, physical aggressive. We came out and got it done.”

On his thought on Dalton Knecht’s struggles of late

“Going have to adjust. Totally different level than he is ever played at. And he will. But he’s seeing some things that he’s never seen before and he’s going to see where teams are going to try to get physical with him as teams have done the last couple games. Then they try to heavy gap him. They got up there on ball screens and hit him hard, where he was predetermined what he was going to do before he got the ball. And that’s normally not what he does. But he’ll learn from it because he wants to. And what he’s going to learn too, when he is not (scoring), he doesn’t have to press that hard on offense if he’ll guard, because these guys, they wanna get him ball. They’ll get it to him where he needs it, as opposed to him thinking he’s got to create something with it every time it touches his hand.”

On Santiago Vescovi and Jahmai Mashack continuing to play different roles in helping this team win

“They want to win, like Dalton. We’re all hurting for (Knecht). We know we need Dalton and he’ll help us. But you know what? We also know you go through growing pains. As the season goes on and people start looking at analytics and scouting teams and go back and look. I mean, we know that’s going to happen and these guys will help him grow more than anything. Because I know we’ve got a lot of respect for him, but sometimes you got to hit rock bottom like this and look around and know that, one, he’s got a great group with him that’s pulling for him and we know we need him. And they know and everyone knows it, but as we move forward, it’s about getting better.

“And I would say that with the other guys on our team, too. I mean, we got guys on the bench that we eventually want to get into some playing time, but our schedule’s been so brutal that we haven’t been able to get those guys the minutes that we’d love to. But these guys, these two guys (Zakai Zeigler and Josiah-Jordan James) have played a lot of minutes this year and probably more than we probably like this time of year. But the games we’ve been in, we’ve had to go with the older guys and they’ve done the thing for us.”

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