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Vols hold on to beat Texas despite terrible shooting performance

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Dalton Knecht couldn’t buy a jumper. Jonas Aidoo couldn’t make a layup. And Tennessee was abysmal from beyond the arc.

But when it mattered most down the stretch, Aidoo hit two clutch free throws, Knecht hit four and the Vols survived and advanced with an unartistic – that’s a nice way of saying ugly – win over Texas 62-58 at the second round of the NCAA Tournament Saturday in Charlotte, N.C.

Tennessee advances to its ninth Sweet 16 with what had to be its worst-ever shooting performance in an NCAA tourney win.

“I’m proud of my team,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “Both teams played their hearts out.”

The second-seeded Vols (26-8) were a miserable 3-for-25 from 3-point range and a horrific 33.8% from the field (22 of 65) but stout defense and poor shooting from seventh-seed Texas (21-13) allowed the Vols to claim victory.

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Knecht, only a 77% foul shooter, hit four in a row in the final 8.8 seconds. Aidoo, who hits 62%, made two free throws with 24.3 seconds left as Tennessee held on after blowing most of a 12-point second-half lead.

“We’re ready to make a deep run,” Aidoo said.

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Besides Aidoo’s clutch free throws, the Vols got a key 3 from Josiah-Jordan James and a layup on a feed from Aidoo.

As I watched Texas rally from a double-digit deficit, I was sure the Longhorns would pull it out with some type miracle shot at the end. I was certain UT’s wretched shooting from 3 would catch up with the Vols.

But it didn’t.

I’m not sure any of Rick Barnes previous nine Tennessee teams would have found a way to win this one.

Knecht, the SEC Player of the Year, had his worst shooting night in ages. He was 5-for-18 from the field and 1-for-8 from 3. He didn’t make a 3 until the final 5:37 of the game.

Aidoo was awful around the rim for most of the game, making just 4-of-12. But he did the job at the foul line when it was questionable as to why UT inbounded the ball to him.

 Ziegler didn’t play consistently well. He had six points, seven assists and three steals. But he had four careless turnovers and was 2-for-12 from the field, 1-of-8 from 3.

Santiago Vescovi had three steals and four rebounds. His only bucket was a layup.

James was the most accurate shooter among the starters, going 4-for-8. He had nine points and nine rebounds.

Tobe Awaka gave UT a spark off the bench, with 10 points on 4-for-5 shooting and five rebounds. But he was in foul trouble most of the game.

Texas had a poor shooting night as well, but much of that should be credited to UT’s defense. Texas shot 36.4% from the field and 7-of-22 from 3.

Barnes has now won two of three against his former team since he arrived at Tennessee nine years ago.

But more importantly, his squad found a way to win despite an awful shooting display.
I wouldn’t expect Tennessee or Knecht or Ziegler to shoot that poorly again.

If they don’t in the Sweet 16, a second Elite Eight appearance for the program is within reach.

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