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Tennessee Basketball: Dalton Knecht plays way into Player of the Year conversation with 32 points at Vanderbilt

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The road warrior did it again. Dalton Knecht dropped 32 points and helped Tennessee Basketball rally from a nine-point first half deficit on the road to beat the Vanderbilt Commodores 75-62 Saturday evening. It’s time to start talking about Knecht in a different light.

This marks the third time in Knecht’s five true road games that he’s gone over 30 points. He’s hit 28 or more in four of them and at least 24 in five of them. More importantly, he’s not gone five straight games with 25 or more points and had over 30 in three of his last four.

There’s no way any serious person can’t consider Knecht a candidate for National Player of the Year. He’s averaging nearly 19 points a game, and at this pace it will get into the mid-20s before long. Remember, playing hurt for a while held him back, and he’s on track for SEC Player of the Year.

In this one, he showed why Tennessee Basketball, ranked No. 5, is different than any team Rick Barnes has ever coached with the Vols. Typically, the Vols have run a motion offense with one true post player and a collection of shooters, but they have been prone to major droughts.

Now, though, they have that personnel plus Knecht, who Barnes can immediately turn to when he needs a bucket and all else is failing. That’s exactly what happened in this game. When Vandy was up 35-26 with a minute to go in the first half, Knecht sparked the comeback with a layup.

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Multiple times early in the second half, just as Vandy had a chance to pull away, Knecht hit a layup to keep UT within a possession. Down 43-39 with just over 15 minutes to go, Knecht then scored seven straight to give the Vols a three-point lead. In fact, he scored all 12 straight for UT specifically to put them up 51-48.

That’s not to say other players didn’t step up. Despite only nine points in the paint, Jonas Aidoo had 10 rebounds and two blocks. He was 4-of-9, and one thing that helped Knecht, who was 3-of-7 from three and 13-of-21 overall, was that Aidoo’s play the past few games is now commanding attention and taking pressure off the perimeter.

Such a combination of threats also allowed Tennessee Basketball to turn to other weapons from outside, and the Vols have numerous options of solid three-point shooters who are all elite defenders, living the Barnes way. As a result, they were able to go 9-of-22 from the outside.

Santiago Vescovi found his way with 12 points, going 2-of-5 from three. Jordan Gainey was 2-of-3 off the bench with 10 points. Zakai Zeigler was 2-of-6 with 10 points, and he also dished out six assists, thanks in large part to the help Knecht gave him.

Simply put, this team once again proved it has everything. Now at 15-4 and 5-1 in the SEC, Tennessee Basketball will next host the South Carolina Gamecocks Tuesday night. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, falls to 5-14 and 0-6 in the SEC and will next visit the Auburn Tigers Wednesday night.

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