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Tennessee star Dalton Knecht can’t overcome other Vols in Purdue loss

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Tennessee knew Dalton Knecht would be key to a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. Yes, he was key. However, the door to the Final Four is still bolted shut for the Vols.

Knecht was certainly called upon early and often in a 72-66 loss to Purdue. Knecht, who was named the SEC Player of the Year this season, scored 37 points on 14 of 31 shooting while seemingly being the only player on Tennessee’s team with an effective offensive game. Oh, and Knecht was also 6 of 12 from three-point range. Meanwhile, the National Player of the Year, Zack Edey, plodded to 40 points and 16 rebounds. Moreover, he was a factor underneath that the Vols had to deal with each time they ran down the court – either way.

The win would have rewritten a ton of history. The Vols came into the game without a Final Four berth in their history. Head coach Rick Barnes only has one Final Four on his illustrious record despite 806 wins. All of that history will now carry forward and likely intensify with Knecht out of eligibility. One must also wonder how long Barnes, 69, wants to continue to coach.

In defense of the Vols, Tennessee was still adapting to the Vols’ recent starting lineup change. Guard Santiago Vescovi didn’t play in the Sweet 16 win against Creighton because of a reported illness. Vescovi came off the bench against Purdue, hitting 0 of 2 shots for 0 points and 2 rebounds. However, Knecht, not the lineup, was clearly the story against the Boliermakers, along with the Vols’ inability to throw in a few more points and support the cause. The Vols shot 38.7 percent from the field while Purdue made 45.3 percent of its shots.

When Purdue left a mid-range jumper open, as the Boilermakers are apt to do, Knecht was there to knock it down early. When the Vols needed just a little more motivation, Knecht showed off his range, as he’s done all season, from three-point range.

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Tennessee’s production against Purdue mirrored Knecht’s play, especially the first half. When he played well, the Vols surged to a double-digit lead. When he disappeared, so did that lead.

The trend of Purdue vs. Knecht and Co. continued into the second half with both teams lobbing haymakers and loading up body blows, but neither team seemed ready to go down for the count. While the entire game was a series of runs, the Vols were responsible for both. 

When Tennessee supported Knecht, the Vols looked like a better team than Purdue, especially when the Vols’ defense was flipping the court. However, when the Boilermakers played well, there didn’t seem to be many Vols – other than Knecht – ready to help out. 

Most thought Knecht would have to lead the Vols to at least one win in the NCAA Tournament if the Vols were going to make a deep run in March, as many thought Tennessee would do. However, no one expected the Vols’ entire team (other than Knecht) would struggle so much to score. Knecht had a great game to help the Vols’ chances, but they were ultimately to match his play.

It seemed the Vols had multiple ways to win all season and weren’t afraid to rely on any of them. Knecht was one way to win, but he wasn’t ever expected to arise victorious in a game in which he carried almost every ounce of the Vols to the finish line. Knecht has donned the cape and played Superman plenty of times this season. However, when it mattered most, with a Final Four on the line, Knecht’s teammates seemed like they were toting Kryptonite.

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