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Dalton Knecht Makes His Case For Player Of The Year In Tennessee’s Win Over Auburn

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Tennessee basketball’s SEC Championship hopes were teetering with 12 minutes left in its 92-84 win over No. 11 Auburn on Wednesday night.

The Tigers were on a 23-6 run and had turned a nine-point deficit into an eight-point lead. Tennessee’s offense was sputtering against KenPom‘s sixth best defense nationally.

Then Dalton Knecht did it again.

He hit a three-pointer on the right wing and Tennessee hopped on his back. In the game’s final 12 minutes, Knecht outscored Auburn 25-21.

“That’s the performance that Dalton did,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said postgame. “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.”

During an eight minute stretch, Knecht scored 23 points on nine-of-10 shooting from the field. He hit deep three-pointers, contested midrange jumpers and drove past defenders and dunked. Auburn tried everything to slow him down, grabbing him before he could get the ball, throwing double and even a triple team at him once he got the ball.

“It’s just what the game folded into and we needed him to do it,” Barnes said of the scoring burst.

Knecht scored 39 points for the second time this season and was, again, efficient doing it. He made 12-of-21 field goal and five-of-eight three-point attempts in the win.

The super senior’s brilliant performance against a strong team in a massive moment was his latest case to win the Wooden Award— given annually to the top player in college basketball.

More From RTI: Everything Rick Barnes Said After Tennessee Defeated Auburn

Purdue’s Zach Edey winning the award for the second straight season is almost a foregone conclusion. He’s averaging 23.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game, numbers that Knecht —20.1 points and five rebounds per game— can’t compete with.

But when Knecht’s at his best, no one compares to him and the 6-foot-6 guard is frequently at his best in the biggest moments. In conference play, Knecht is averaging 25.3 points which barely beats Edey’s 24.9 points.

Knecht’s ability to take over a game is also unprecedented in college basketball. He’s scored 20-plus points five times in the second half of games this season. Tennessee is 3-2 in those five games, overcoming second half deficits to win against Georgia, Vanderbilt and Auburn while comeback bids came up just short against North Carolina and Mississippi State.

While Edey is 7-foot-3 and overpowers opponents, there’s something more impressive about a guard who coaches left off the All-Big Sky First Team a season ago becoming unstoppable and scoring at all three levels.

“JJ Reddick did it. He torched us for (41) one night,” Barnes said. “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.”

Maybe how you score points shouldn’t matter in a player of the year conversation and Edey is undoubtedly more effective rebounding and defending than Knecht is.

But let every coach in the country draft one player nationally ahead of the NCAA Tournament and more would take Knecht than Edey.

At his best, Knecht is better offensively than any other player in the country. He has four scoring outputs better than Edey’s best and he can save a team when they’re floundering. Knecht proved it again versus Auburn on Wednesday night.

It’s not likely that Knecht surpasses Edey and wins the Wooden Award. But his performance against Auburn might help the Vols win more important hardware. Tennessee is in polling position to win the SEC Championship and Knecht’s brilliance gives them a chance to make it Phoenix.

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