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Tennessee Basketball Shows Its More Than Dalton Knecht At Alabama

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Three days after saving Tennessee and making his case for National Player of the Year in a win over No. 11 Auburn, star Dalton Knecht had his worst game in two months on Saturday night at Alabama.

Tennessee’s second leading scorer in SEC play, Jonas Aidoo, battled foul trouble and scored just 12 points. But, still, the Vols went on the road, locked down college basketball’s best offense, got contributions from nearly everyone that played and showed that they are a whole lot more than Dalton Knecht in an 81-74 win at No. 14 Alabama.

“Jahmai Mashack, Santi (Vescovi), Josiah James, guys that have been around for a long time, they made a lot of plays, especially Josiah getting on the glass. ‘Z’ (Zakai Zeigler) (with) what he does,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said postgame.

Nine Vols played against Alabama and seven gave Tennessee extremely meaningful contributions. In fact, seven different Vols scored eight points in a game where Zakai Zeigler led the team with 18 points.

Jordan Gainey came off the bench and sparked the Vols’ offense by getting to the foul line in the first half. The shooting guard scored all nine of his points in the first half which helped Tennessee build a lead as large as 10 points at one point.

“Big time,” Josiah-Jordan James said of Gainey’s first half spurt.

“He kept us in it,” Barnes said.

Tennessee’s elder statesmen Santiago Vescovi and James made winning play after winning play at Alabama. Vescovi hit two-of-five three-point shots, scored eight points and totaled three crafty steals while also drawing up plays in Tennessee’s huddle in the game’s final minutes.

James was even bigger, making three-of-six triples and scoring 11 points. But as is often the case, James versatility was even more crucial. The super senior wing played the five-spot for extended minutes in the first half while Aidoo and Tobe Awaka battled foul trouble.

Playing a 6-foot-6 forward at the five, Tennessee held up on the glass against one of the nation’s best offensive rebounding teams as James grabbed seven first half rebounds on his way to 13 for the game.

“Jo … you were awesome,” Barnes told James postgame.

Tennessee’s versatility was on display this week. The Vols played extremely small when they had to against Alabama and played two-bigs against the bigger Auburn. Tennessee is confident they have the answer for any play style an opponent throws at them.

“It shows that we can win games in different styles of play,” James said. “We can slow the game down. We can play fast. We can play through a lot of guys on the floor.”

No one was bigger for Tennessee against the Crimson Tide than junior guard Jahmai Mashack. He chased around Alabama guards Mark Sears and Aaron Estrada all night and hit a trio of timely shots.

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

Mashack was responsible for the game’s most important sequence. With just over six minutes remaining, he drilled a corner triple which gave Tennessee its first lead of the second half. He then intercepted a Sears outlet pass to Estrada, saving it right to Zeigler who found Aidoo for an and-one. Tennessee never trailed again.

“They kick ahead a lot. They want to get a lot of points in under 10 seconds if possible,” Mashack said of the sequence. “I knew Sears was looking for Estrada and I knew I was on the other side of the court trying to get back because I made a three on the other corner. I was just hauling trying to get to that other side and I was able to pick it off. I think I learned a lot of that from my brother. He played football and was a safety so I think I turned into him at that point in time.”

Mashack’s defensive effort led the way for the most impressive part of Tennessee’s victory. The Vols held Alabama’s elite offense to its second lowest scoring performance of the season, behind only the matchup in Knoxville.

The junior guard was fantastic guarding Alabama’s highly touted backcourt but it was a complete defensive performance. Tennessee held Alabama to just three-of-21 shooting from the field in the final 14 minutes. That is why the Vols hung around and pulled out the win.

“Alabama is a really good offensive team,” James said. “They had some shots that went in-and-out and you could definitely see a little bit of frustration. They’re a really talented team. Really talented on the offensive end but I’m proud of us for sticking to our principles.”

Tennessee sticking to its principles helped them pull into first place in the SEC by beating its biggest challenger on the road. Doing it on a quiet night from star Dalton Knecht is all the more impressive.

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