Heart and soul: Vols may not win every game but they won’t quit

Marvin Westwestwords

This Tennessee basketball team is tough, physically and mentally.

It may lose between now and then – probably will – but I have faith it will not quit.

It had a splendid opportunity Saturday evening in Alabama. The leader of the band wasn’t in the correct key. The 100-points-a-game Crimson Tide was playing defense as if it actually mattered. The really big crowd was lusting for revenge.

The Volunteers, down seven in the second half, absolutely, totally, rejected the idea of packing it in. You could see that decision was final during a timeout. Santiago Vescovi went from teammate to teammate with the message – hang in there, we can do it. (Santi can be a coach some day).

Josiah-Jordan James backed that little pep talk up in the war zone. He battled big boys and beat them for rebounds.

Guard Jahmai Mashack #15 during the game against Alabama.

We knew Jahmai Mashack was a gladiator. He does not always play perfect technique. He sometimes fouls too much. He is a guaranteed winner in a street fight.

Rick Barnes said a lot when he said “I love him to death.”

I can’t be sure but I think Alabama coach Nate Oates said “damn.”

Mashack demonstrated the winning edge in that seven-second segment at the six-minute mark, the three from a corner, the hustle pick in backcourt, the pass to Ziggy (Zakai Zeigler) and his feed to Jonas Aidoo.


Tennessee’s victory over Alabama created a problem for South Carolina. It won’t have enough tickets to accommodate the Wednesday evening gathering.

Not everybody will be there. Some have not come to grips with the fact that the Gamecocks are also contending for the Southeastern Conference championship. Last-place projections and team title just do not fit in the same sentence.

You do remember that the elite panel of league and national media members picked South Carolina to finish last – 14th, far below Vanderbilt and Missouri. This was October 30.

What that vote says is the binoculars handed out for long-distance sight-seeing had distorted lens. The experts saw no clue that Lamont Paris would be coach of the year. They couldn’t even see Dalton Knecht, 6-6 and white. To tell you the whole truth, they had never heard of him. They didn’t know where to look.

The voters made other blunders. They had the audacity to stick Ziggy on the all-SEC second team – SECOND TEAM – behind an entire crowd of players. Talk about a lack of foresight …

I didn’t do it. I did not vote. I am not an elite expert.

South Carolina is capable. It defeated Tennessee at Food City Center. That was no fluke. The Gamecocks dictated tone and pace. They were alert, aggressive rebounders. They did not fold when the Vols pressed.

Barnes said Tennessee lacked focus. It missed 10 point-blank layups and a dunk attempt, missed eight free throws and went almost seven minutes without a field goal. Knecht’s 31 prevented an embarrassing rout.

South Carolina is now 24-5, 12-4 in the SEC, a game behind the Vols. One landmark was a 17-point romp over Kentucky. Discouraging time was a blowout defeat (101-61) at Auburn and a stunning setback at home against LSU.

The Gamecocks recovered and have won three in a row. Meechie Johnson scored 25 and led them back from 12 down and despair against Florida on Saturday. He hit a tie-breaking 3-pointer with 43.4 seconds to play.

Barnes has already said the Vols had better be tuned in, ready to rumble. The coach anticipates another unusual defense against Knecht.

Oates often had his Tide double-team the shooting star. His goal was to force Dalton to give up the ball. The scheme had merit.

Oates told the world what you already know.

“Zeigler leads the league in assists, so if you put too much attention on Knecht, you open the floor up for Zeigler. Aidoo has been very good inside. You pay too much attention to Knecht and all of a sudden Aidoo starts hurting you.

“So, it’s not like this is a one-man band. Vescovi has been one of the best guards in this league for a long time.”

Oates is now convinced JJJ is pretty good, too, and Mashack can break hearts and souls.

Tennessee at South Carolina promises to be another game of the year. Enjoy. This season is already double the fun of many campaigns past. Good time to guess how far it will go.

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is marvinwest75@gmail.com


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