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Inside The 18-0 Run That Propelled Tennessee Basketball To The Elite Eight

Photo By Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics

DETROIT, Mich. — Creighton led by two points early in the second half of Tennessee’s 82-75 Sweet 16 win Friday night. Neither team could create any separation in a back-and-forth first 21 minutes.

Then the Vols found another gear, going on an 18-0 run in 4:50 that changed the game and propelled them to the second Elite Eight appearance in program history.

“We really haven’t had anybody do that to us this year,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said postgame. “I think it was less than five minutes. It seemed like a long time. But we haven’t had to overcome something like that.”

It started with 18:50 left in the game when Dalton Knecht rebounded his own missed three-pointer, drew a foul and made two free throws to tie the game.

Tennessee’s defense went into hyperdrive.

“Our defense started it all,” super senior Josiah-Jordan James said. “Being able to get stops was huge.”

Defense started it but James was the one that kickstarted it. He hit an eight-foot turnaround that gave Tennessee a two point lead. Fifty seconds later, Tobe Awaka left Ryan Kalkbrenner to close out on Baylor Scheierman after the Creighton star shook free from Dalton Knecht.

Scheierman fed Kalkbrenner. Zakai Zeigler went for the strip and while Kalkbrenner avoided it the attempt bought just enough time for James who came from the opposite short corner and blocked the 7-foot-1 center’s layup attempt right to Zeigler.

Zeigler found Knecht who dribbled five times and 79 feet before scoring on a right-handed layup. James made the defensive play that made it happen.

“We always call Josiah the fix-it guy, right so that’s an example of why we call him that,” Tennessee assistant coach Rod Clark said. “He goes and fixes that play and gets the block and we go down and get a layup on the other end. That’s Josiah, man.”

“We know how it feels the other way. It’s deflating,” Tennessee assistant coach Gregg Polisnky said. “You’re getting ready to lay it up, cut it (the lead) but him making that play, such a momentum swing. Big time.”

Knecht made the next defensive play on the ensuing possession. The SEC Player of the Year jumped in front of a Kalkbrenner pass, burst into transition, drew the lone Creighton defender and dropped a pass to Jahmai Mashack for a wide open layup.

“I got the steal and I was looking around the court and I saw Shack running,” Knecht said. “I was like alright, he (the defender) has to play two guys. He stepped up on me and Shack got it and does what he does. I thought he was going to go out and dunk it but it was all good.”

Rick Barnes has implored Knecht to not be so narrow sighted in transition and to see the entire court. The Vols’ star did just that, giving up the ball for an easy bucket.

8-0 run.

Creighton needed to talk about.

More From RTI: What Creighton Coach Greg McDermott Said After Tennessee Defeated The Blue Jays

“Them calling a timeout and him (Knecht) coming over,” Polinsky said. “Just couldn’t wait to tell him what a great play. Just a simple A to B. You know they’re going to guard you, Jahmai is running. That’s so rewarding.”

Tennessee was just getting started.

Creighton shooting guard Trey Alexander had Jahmai Mashack on his back but briefly hesitated when he ran into Tobe Awaka at the basket. Mashack recovered in that split second and violently blocked the shot into the Little Caesars Arena floor.

Knecht scooped it up and took it himself this time, scoring the third and final basket that Tennessee scored in transition during the 18-0 run.

“Very dangerous,” James said of Tennessee in transition. “We’re a very dangerous team because we’ve got a lot of guys one through five that can score on the fly and in the transition game.”

Tennessee’s offense largely got it done in the half court from there. Zeigler found Knecht off a curl and relocated to the left wing while Creighton’s Steven Ashford tried to strip Knecht. The 6-foot-6 wing whipped a pass to Zeigler who drilled his third triple of the night.

13-0 run.

Next possession, the 6-foot-4 Jahmai Mashack switched onto Kalkbrenner, recovered quickly on a spin to the baseline and stuffed the shot. Mashack, who started in place of the ill Santiago Vescovi, grabbed one of his five offensive rebounds on the ensuing possession and finished a layup.

Scheierman couldn’t stop the bleeding on a layup attempt the next time down the court. Zeigler pushed the pace, found Knecht who again made the extra pass to James for a wide open corner triple. Money.

18-0 run.

Timeout Creighton, again.

Knecht scored six points and assisted on four more baskets as he accounted for 16 of Tennessee’s 18 points on the run. His five assists on the night was just one off his season high.

“Any time he’s getting off the ball like that and guys are making shots, it makes us tougher to guard,” Clark said.

“He played a really good floor game,” Polinsky said. “Five assists. Six rebounds. Two steals. A block. What else can you ask for?”

There was still 13:59 remaining and Creighton cut the deficit to as few as three points. But the Blue Jays could never completely dig themselves out of the 16-point hole. It was Tennessee’s best five minute stretch of the season and it sent them to the Elite Eight.

“We were just clicking on offense and on defense,” junior guard Jordan Gainey said. “A lot of loose ball plays. A lot of 50/50 balls. Shack blocking a 7-footer. Tobe grabbing rebounds. Everything was clicking right for us and our confidence was through the roof.

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