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Three Quick Takeaways: Tennessee Basketball Wins Heavyweight Fight At Alabama

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Tennessee basketball overcame a lackluster offensive performance with dominant defense as they knocked off rival Alabama 81-74 on Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.

The win completed the season sweep of Alabama and moves the Vols in sole possession of first place in the SEC with one week remaining.

Here’s three quick takeaways on the win.

Alabama Takes Halftime Lead With Lightning Strike Run

No team in the country can put a quick run on an opponent the way Alabama can. Tennessee assistant coach Gregg Polinsky called them lightning strikes on Friday and the Vols were on the wrong end of one to end the first half.

Josiah-Jordan James missed an open three-pointer which would have given Tennessee a 13-point lead with 3:15 left in the first half. But the shot didn’t go and Alabama went on a lightning strike run.

The Crimson Tide went on an 8-0 run in just 1:16 to cut Tennessee’s lead to two points and then scored the only four points scored in the rest of the half. After Tennessee lead for 17:03 in the first half, Alabama went on a 12-0 run that gave the Crimson Tide a halftime lead.

In a vacuum, Tennessee trailing by two points at halftime wasn’t an awful result especially considering Jonas Aidoo and Tobe Awaka spent almost the entirety of the first half on the bench with two fouls.

But the run to end the half made it feel worse and Tennessee’s inability to score at the basket In that stretch proved costly. In a 3:47 scoring drought to end the first half, the Vols took only jump shots and went zero-of-six from the three-point range during that stretch.

Tennessee Wins Without A Big Game From Its Stars

Dalton Knecht, Jonas Aidoo and Zakai Zeigler have been the Vols go-to guys in SEC play this season. Tennessee didn’t get enough from that trio to beat a really good team on the road.

Knecht had his lowest scoring night since the Ole Miss game as he scored just 13 points on an inefficient five-of-14 shooting from the field. The night was particularly quiet for Knecht given he scored six points in the game’s first five minutes.

Aidoo was limited in part due to foul trouble and had some good stretches in the second half. Still, it was a relatively quiet night from the junior power forward as he scored 12 points on three-of-six shooting from the field. Zeigler gave the Vols more with 18 points but it wasn’t a particularly efficient shooting performance and he dished out only four assists.

But where Tennessee’s stars didn’t shine, its role players were great. Jordan Gainey had a big nine points with all of them coming in the first half. Jahmai Mashack hit two triples and scored eight points in the game. Super seniors Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi also provided some offensive, combining for 19 points.

Tennessee’s depth flexed its muscles.

Tennessee Wins With Its Defense

Despite struggling on the offensive end for extended periods of the game, the Vols remained in striking distance in the second half thanks to great defense.

The Vols held Alabama to a nine stretch in the second half where they scored just seven points and a 8:50 stretch where the Crimson Tide didn’t make a field goal. That stretch allowed Tennessee to hang around as its offense struggled and eventually take the lead after they finally hit some shots.

Tennessee held Alabama to 38% shooting from the field and 24% shooting from three-point line. While star Mark Sears scored 22 points, Mashack and Zeigler did a strong job on him and forced him to find other guys and not beat the Vols by himself.

Alabama’s 74 points was tied for its second lowest of the year and came on just 1.072 points per possession.

Final Stats

Up Next

Tennessee heads back on the road on Wednesday night where they’ll face South Carolina in Columbia. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. ET and ESPN2 is broadcasting the game.

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