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Everything Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Knocked Off Auburn

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Tennessee basketball remained in the top-spot in the SEC standings by knocking off Auburn 92-84 in Knoxville on Wednesday night.

The Tigers led by as many as eight points in the second half before Dalton Knecht came alive and scored 27 second half points to propel Tennessee to the victory.

Following the win, Tennessee coach Rick Barnes discussed Knecht’s big performance, solid post performances from Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka and much more. Here’s everything Barnes said postgame.

More From RTI: Three Quick Takeaways As Tennessee Basketball Defeats Auburn In Knoxville

On putting Dalton Knecht’s 27-point second half into perspective

“Well, first of all it’s a high-level game. I thought both teams played extremely hard. And nothing easy came on either end. Both teams really impressed with all the players that played. Honestly, high-level, hard-fought game. But at the end, obviously Dalton, we were struggling to score and that had a lot to do with what they were doing. And he was struggling with the free-throw line. But he got it going and we just said, hey, we’re going to get it to him and the other guys are ready, try to get him open and then he’ll make the play, and then we got to rebound the ball. But still, with that said, guard them on the other end. We had to try to get some stops. And Johni Broome was awesome. I thought he was terrific tonight and remember what he did. But that’s the performance that Dalton did. I mean, what he did in the last about 12 minutes, I think, was just one of the great performances that I’ve been able to see.”

On how he coaches the final 12 minutes offensively in that game when a player is going off like that

“Well, you know, we have a set where we normally have two guys up, three guys down below, and it’s something that we know that we can go to. But I will tell you this, we changed a little bit. Instead of having him with a chance to come off either side, we moved him over to one side and told both guys to go get him open and really gave him two-thirds of the court to try to get open and get the ball. He did it. And then it’s up to him. It’s up to him to make the moves that, the shots that he thinks he’s got. And those other guys have to deliver because, offensive end, they were working really hard to take him out and he was trying to use that as a way to get Zakai open. And Zakai made a big three too. And thought Santi’s lay up there, when that tough shot, he forced up. That was a big play. And Dalton was trying to do that, he was trying to get Zakai going downhill, but I think Zakai was so locked in, trying to get him involved. But at the end we were just spacing out and trying to give him room to operate.”

On Tennessee winning the rebounding battle

“They’re a hard team to guard. Run really good actions. And Bruce does a great job with them. Johni Broome creates a lot of problems. And we didn’t want get too spread out. And he starts operating there and then we tried to double and he’s such a great passer there. And oftentimes when you’re doing that, you get yourself outta a rebound position. But tonight for the most part, I thought we’d fall apart to get back in, to try to go, come up some balls. I think we gave up one or two on the free-throw blockout, which we can’t do. But we’ve harped on it enough all year and worked on it and keep talking about it and we’ve got to continue to talk about it and so we just stay consistent with it.”

On the comfort of Dalton Knecht being able to take over if shots aren’t falling for other Tennessee players 

“Well, it is. There are nights when he hasn’t had it and other guys have stepped up. And I like to think with our team that, whether it’s our inside play where you look at the numbers that Jonas and Tobe, that’s a good night for those guys. But you know, when it bogs down, missing free throws, first half we turned it over ‘Z’ turned it over four times in the first half. It wasn’t his fault, it was spacing. I mean, we weren’t getting to the corners, we weren’t getting in a position underneath the basket and they shrunk the spot. We shrunk the for them and then they’re good with their hands and so our spacing was not very good. But you know, that’s what you hope. You have a guy like that. And I’ve had a couple, not many. Not many of those guys let him do it at the way he did it tonight. And we’ve seen him do it. I mean, you guys have seen him do it in other games. But we honestly had some other guys on the team that if they didn’t want like that we think they can do it. But maybe not to that level because he can score all three levels. I I do think that they were running, at the end, they ran three guys at him and I might have done same thing because I mean, you could tell when a guy gets heated up like that  — and Bruce has been around a long time, we’ve all seen guys that can get that going maybe at a level like that.  I mean, I’ll be honest with you, JJ Reddick did it. He torched us for (41) one night. And I’m telling you, when you sit there, you feel helpless because of the shots he makes and just trying to guard him the best you can. But when he gets it going, it’s hard to guard.”

On if Santiago Vescovi’s late basket off an offensive rebound and Josiah-Jordan Jame’ late blocked shots are the little things people don’t see

“That and their calmness, you know, I mean we do need it and, again, those guys have been in games like this over their career, but it is those winning plays that we talked about. Fix-it plays, whatever term you want to put on it. And somewhat of it, it is their composure because they do a lot of coaching out there. I mean they know, they will say like, we got it called and sometimes you’d be shocked that we could come out a time out and a couple guys still or whether they’re just caught in the moment or whatever, they don’t come out and execute the way we need to and something that we continue to address. But those guys, you never worry about that. Those guys, they know exactly what’s going on and you can put it on the fly with them during the game and they can come down the floor and just gotta yell one thing to them and they can fix it all. And that is invaluable. That’s invaluable as a coach— to have guys like that.”

On the importance of Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka’s performance

“Well, we needed it, and again, those guys are gonna continue to get better and better and better and we really believe that. But again, it’s tough down there again, thinking about Johni Broome. I mean guarding him one-on-one, he’s as hard to guard as any post guy we played all year and Bruce does a good job doing things with him to roll him in there, bring him across. He’s a very good passer. You try to double team him. How many assist did he have tonight (five). He had a couple that were big. I mean those are as big as the baskets he makes because he’s getting somebody, we’re in rotation, he’s getting somebody a great look and you got to give him great credit for that. But Jonas and Tobe, we just need him to continue to improve and bring that consistency.”

On how much of the game plan was trying to isolate Dalton Knecht on Johni Broome

“Well, we decided that at about the 12 minute mark, you know, it’s because we were struggling and a lot had to do with them and the players know it and we knew we’ve seen him, again, do it at times but it’s just what the game folded into and we needed him to do it. They were kind of doing it on the other end with Johni trying to get him drawing players toward him and making plays. But there were some high level shot making going on out there and they made some high level shots too. They had some degrees from the corner and it felt, honestly, I’m sure it was a great game to watch, but it was a high level hard fought basketball game.”

On Jonas Aidoo’s ability to fight for positioning

“Well, when he fights for that, that’s when he’s really effective— when he gets his space and, again, he’s got to fight and hold him because, again, Johni Broome knocked a few away there. He’s got length, he’s strong but Jonas is just going to continue to improve there. ButJonas can knock down those 10, 15 (foot jumpers). I mean, Jonas can make three too. He knows when to shoot or when not to, but he’s got a great touch, 15, 17 feet. But when he’s getting around the rim now he’s learning how to absorb the contact and try to play through it. But it all starts with him getting his space to begin with.”

On fighting through the peculiar tempo of the first eight minutes of the second half

“I mean I haven’t looked at it, but it seemed like what, probably 50 free throws. What was it? What did we shoot? (66 total. Tennessee shooting 35). I do think, again, I mean I think it’s a hard game to officiate. I do every night. And when you got two teams that are playing at the level that both teams were playing at tonight, they’re trying to be as consistent as they can with it. But we missed—  during that stretch when we got behind, we got to make those free throw because we were struggling to get good looks and that had to do with them but overall, again, I do, I think officiating they, I like to say it, it’s a difficult game to officiate, but when you got two teams playing with the intensity and the force that both teams were playing with, obviously, and I’m sure their idea was we just can’t let it get out of hand, and I’m sure they call it the way they saw it.”

On if he Knecht was capable of these type of nights when he committed to Tennessee or has he grown into it

“I (didn’t) know that much about him other than the highlight tape that I saw when the coaches showed me him a couple days before he was coming in. I walked out of here last night at I think 10:30. He was walking back on the court. He deserves what’s happened to him while he’s been here because he’s worked extremely hard. He loves it. He’s a very humble person. I think the fact that we have older guys like we have, for our older guys and people that have been with us to embrace him the way they have, I think it speaks a lot about his humility. And he loves those older guys dearly because he will defer to ’em all the time if he had to. But they’re the ones that are telling him, ‘Hey, you gotta keep going.’

“In the last two weeks, there is no question. No question. That I’ve been harder on him in practice than any of the other players out there because I wanna see more from him on the defensive end. Because again, Bruce, other teams, they go at him trying to get him out of the game and try to put him in positions where he has to pick up fouls. I don’t wanna see that happen. I still think with whatever time we have left, I want him to leave here knowing that we didn’t stop coaching, did try to help get him better, but his work ethic is put him where he is today. In some ways he’s a young 22-year-old guy and I’m telling you, if he has time to continue to develop, like I think he can, he’s got a great future.”

On if you can tell while recruiting a player if they can make plays in big moments in big games

“It’s tough. I don’t know if I’d call that recruiting. I think it’d be more evaluation, you know, where you try to find that out as much as you can. The only way you can really do that, I mean you do your intel work and assistant coaches are on top of that and you watch ’em if they’re coming through like a typical, say a high school player, you get to see ’em so much and you can kind of see a little bit of that. Certainly not what a crowd like this — our arena has been electric. Certainly a lot since I’ve been, but the last two games has been awesome, but answering your question, I don’t think you know it until you see it happening right in front of you, but we watch it practice somehow. 

I will tell you, you see guys get going and we got a couple other guys that can get going to a level, maybe not to that level, but to a very high level. I think if we all — that’s a really good question ’cause I think if we all could really know how to answer that, I think it’d make our jobs a lot easier. I really do.”

On how big of an answer that be this time of year where you’re playing for a league title, down eight at home, 12 minutes left

“I think it’s important. That’s an elite-type game. If you’re going to move on in a tournament in that kind of game, it’s going to be the runs, the ebbs and flows of the game and can you maintain your poise throughout the game. And we did. I mean it was tough. We get up and they fought back, but as much as you want to keep that separation or get that separation, they’re too well coached. They play hard. They got good players as we do. And this time of year, they’re competing for everything too. I mean, as hard as we are, they are too. But when you can withstand the runs that they made and I mean they did the same thing. You know, we got down, they came back and it’s one of those games. That’s what made it a really a big-time level basketball game.”

On how he feel they defended Auburn big man Johni Broome

“Well, you saw we let him go baseline twice, which you can’t do. I mean that’s his patent move and for him to do that, that’s really a total breakdown of the scouting report. And when we doubled, we knew that he was a really good passer and he’s very unselfish. I think he really likes to pass ball and tonight, I mean he played terrific. I mean he was, he played terrific. I didn’t even look at his numbers, but he made some three’s. His assists were the ones that kill you because he makes you come with two and he finds the open man, and at the end we, when we needed a stop, he had a play right in front of the basket that I thought, you know, was a tough shot for him. I think that was a big play there where we were able to come up with a rebound. 

“But again, Bruce does a terrific job putting him (in) different areas, making him difficult to where he just doesn’t set him on the block and leave him there. Rolls him in there. You have to give Johni a lot of credit. He made the right play a lot tonight and was responsible for a lot of, not just points he scored, but for his teammates points.”

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