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‘He Is A Special Player’: Zakai Zeigler Controls The Game Against Texas A&M

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

If you just stat watched, Tennessee point guard Zakai Zeigler’s performance at Missouri was average. The junior wasn’t at his best but still totaled 10 points and three assists in the road win.

But Rick Barnes thought it was much worse than the numbers suggest. Barnes, who’s never shy to tell a player a harsh truth, let his junior point guard know about it.

“I told him I thought he played one of the worst games he has played since he has been here at Missouri,” Barnes said.

What made the performance so bad in Barnes’ eyes?

“He just told me he felt like I wasn’t as poised,” Zeigler said. “Film doesn’t lie. On the film, it looked like I didn’t have the same poise that I usually have. I just didn’t play with that same swagger I guess you could say. I got a little bit rattled.”

Zeigler frequently answers his bad games with some of his best and that’s exactly what he did on Saturday night as Tennessee torched Texas A&M 86-51 at Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center.

The best part of Zeigler’s performance were the same things he struggled with at Missouri. Zeigler’s poise was fantastic against the Aggies as was his control and pacing of the game.

Barnes frequently says the mark of a good player is how they affect the game when they aren’t shooting well. Zeigler shot poorly against Texas A&M, making just three-of-10 field goal attempts.

More From RTI: Everything Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Knocked Off Texas A&M

He did everything else near flawlessly. He dished out 14 assists to no turnovers. He flirted with the second triple-double in program history scoring nine points and grabbing nine rebounds. He added four steals for good measure.

“It was the way I thought he managed the game and like I said, he didn’t have a particularly great shooting night,” Barnes said. “It was just how he controlled the game for us.”

Zeigler’s career-high 14 assists is remarkable on its own but to do it without turning it over is nearly unthinkable in college basketball. That pass first point guard mindset shows his growth as a player during his college career while his nine rebounds, as a 5-foot-9 guard, and four steals illustrate the toughness that’s been apparent from the moment he stepped on Tennessee’s campus.

Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams called Zeigler Tennessee’s “engine” and he made everything run smoothly against the Aggies. He was cool and collective dicing up Texas A&M’s full court and half court defense.

“Him getting into the lane really spraying it the way he did and collapsing the defense and then giving guys the chance to catch it on the run and do some things,” Barnes said. “He is just invaluable with what he does. What can you say about a guy on the court getting nine rebounds like that? Yet he is distributing the ball the way he did. He is a special player.”

Barnes pulled Zeigler with just over two minutes remaining in the game and the two shared a longer than normal embrace. Zeigler’s perfectionist head coach had nothing but praise for his performance. At least for now.

“It wasn’t my best shooting night but controlling the game, from that pace I feel like I did really well and he felt the same,” Zeigler said. “It was a really special moment and I felt like he was just giving me my flowers in the moment. Film, he might get me with something else but he was giving me my flowers for the moment.”

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One Response

  1. Congrats to Rick Barnes on 800 wins. His defensive coaching is outstanding, and he has put Tennessee amongst the elite. What more can be said about double Z. 14 assist with no turnovers – WHAT! He is the ‘engine’ for sure. GO VOLS.

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