Everything you need from Tennessee Basketball in the NCAA Tournament was on display Saturday. The Vols were on the road and having a rough shooting night from the outside for most players. Meanwhile, the Georgia Bulldogs were just red-hot, as they finished 14-of-33 from three.
To get them out of there with the win, Rick Barnes relied on his inside-game advantage and his go-to scorer. Jonas Aidoo dominated the Dawgs down low, and Dalton Knecht took over, drawing connections to another former Rick Barnes player, Kevin Durant, to get them the win.
Knecht dropped 36 points and went 5-of-8 from outside. Aidoo, meanwhile, was a bully down low, as he finished with 10 points, 15 rebounds and five, yes five, blocked shots. Zakai Zeigler, who had a rough night with six turnovers and going 1-of-6 from three, was still effective, getting to the basket and the foul line all night to finish with 18 points.
This offset Santiago Vescovi not getting enough looks from three, where he went 2-of-5, and Josiah-Jordan James going 0-of-3 from outside. Tennessee Basketball still had enough shooters, a go-to scorer, a slasher and enough of an inside presence to dominate offensively.
Make no mistake, there’s nothing wrong about this win. In this day of college basketball, beating a conference rival on the road who was 12-3 going into the game is impressive. UT showed it can find offense when it’s off shooting and dealing with an onslaught from the other side, that’s huge.
Rocky Top also showed mental toughness holding on for the win. This was the second of two straight road games, and the Vols were coming off a tough road loss to the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Wednesday. Of course, in March, you won’t have the opportunity to bounce back from losses, but you also won’t be on the road.
Simply put, Tennessee Basketball keeps finding way to generate offense, and that’s what’s crucial for them. Aidoo has to consistently exert his dominance, and if he’s doing that, one of two other things has to happen. UT either has to be red-hot from three, or Knecht has to take over. On Saturday, Knecht took over.
That is what cleared the lane for Zeigler to be able to slash so much and get to the foul line. Oh, the free throw line was another aspect of why UT showed what it can do in March, as Zeigler was 7-of-10, Knecht was 7-of-9 and the team was 18-of-23 despite going 9-of-26 from three.
Defense will always be there under Barnes, but you’re going to run into teams that are unstoppable for a while like Georgia was in this game. The question then becomes if you can win with offense, even if you’re off shooting. Tennessee Basketball once again found a way to do that.