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Tennessee Basketball: Rick Barnes proves this team is different in Vols’ March Madness win vs. Texas

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With just under six minutes to go in the game, Tennessee Basketball was 1-of-22 from the three-point line and clinging to a 47-42 lead against the Texas Longhorns in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32. Rick Barnes was going to have to manufacture points against his former team to reach the Sweet 16.

Enter Dalton Knecht.

Everything that had plagued Barnes in past March Madness games was on display in this game, but in those games, he didn’t have Knecht. Despite struggling all night, Knecht hit a clutch three to put Tennessee Basketball up 50-42. Two possessions later, Josiah-Jordan James hit a three to put UT up 53-44.

This is why Barnes is coaching a different team than usual. He’s got Knecht, a go-to scorer who can find a way to get to the bucket even when things aren’t going well. Despite struggling from the field, the SEC scoring champion finished with 19 points, thanks in large part to that three and four clutch free throws to close out the game.

The three-point drought continued after that, as the Vols finished 3-of-25 from the three-point line. Those were the only two they’d make in the second half. However, it allowed them to survive with a 62-58 victory, thanks to their defense and clutch free throws by Jonas Aidoo late.

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With Texas trailing 58-55 and a chance to tie, Knecht’s three and Aidoo’s later free throws allowed Barnes to do what he does best: Dial up a perfect defense that took away their chance to score. He did just that, got a stop, and then Knecht hit four free throws sandwiching a lucky three by Texas to secure a 62-58 win for the Vols.

Now, Barnes’ team is headed to the second weekend. It’s the first time since 2009-2010 and second time ever that Tennessee Basketball reached the sweet 16 two years in a row. The defense speaks for itself, and they can’t keep struggling that much from three, but they survived their bad shooting night. That makes this worth celebrating.

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