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Tennessee Basketball did everything it needed to do in March Madness win vs. St. Peter’s

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It was clear going in that Tennessee Basketball would rely on the inside game to beat the Saint Peter’s Peacocks in its first March Madness game. This team plays an inside-out game with players far too undersized to compete at the level the Vols play at, and that’s exactly what they did.

Jonas Aidoo went off early to put Rick Barnes’ No. 2 seed team in control, as they won their first 2024 NCAA Tournament game 83-49. He had 13 points in the first 10 minutes and finished with 15. Tobe Awaka added eight points off the bench. This was the heart of the win.

However, that was just the obvious matchup advantage. Tennessee Basketball had a lot of issues to address coming off two straight losses, even if one was a tank job and both involved them putting up little effort. They had to prove they are still the team that won the SEC regular season title.

Well, the Vols did just that. Obviously, the defense was there with Josiah-Jordan James getting four steals, as they held Saint Peter’s to under 50. Dalton Knecht, the other story of this team, was also himself, finishing the game with 23 points. Zakai Zeigler had a double-double with 11 points and 10 assists.

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The other keys, though, were finding the hot hand and maintaining rest after starters logged too many minutes during the season. They did just that, which was an issue in the SEC Tournament. It’s not just about finding the hot hand, though. Who had the hot hand stood out.

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Santiago Vescovi went 2-of-4 from three. Sure, those were his only six points, but given his issues this year in a diminished role, this is exactly what Barnes has needed from him. If he can just hit those wide open shots when Knecht and Aidoo command so much attention, UT can go far. Zeigler, for what it’s worth, was 3-of-5.

Most notably, though, the Vols were able to get back into rhythm while also getting their rest. UT played 10 guys in this game, and Zeigler got more rest than he had all year. That’s crucial if the Vols are going to make a deep run in March as fatigue has cost them in the past.

With this win, Tennessee Basketball advances to face the Texas Longhorns in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 Saturday night. Barnes gets to face the school that fired him nine years ago with a chance to get to his second straight Sweet 16.

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