Auburn was tough but Knecht was tougher

Marvin Westwestwords

So, Auburn has a good team and a good coach and a good record but Tennessee won the big game because Auburn does not have a Dalton Knecht.

The really great scorer took over the second half and there wasn’t much the Tigers could do about it. He was virtually unstoppable. He lifted the Vols from eight behind to a 92-84 victory. The sellout crowd at Food City Center was exuberant.

Knecht scored 39. He had 27 after intermission, all but two in the final 12 minutes.

In his hottest half of the season, he was 9-of-16 (3-of-6 threes). It was a furious flurry. He got several goals with two Tigers trying to guard him.

“Dalton was pretty good,” said Rick Barnes.

The coach laughed at his own joke. He said he felt like a jockey aboard a great race horse.

“All I did was hold the reins.”

Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said “Dalton was terrific. He was really hard to stop. He made a lot of tough shots, a lot of shots that were contested.”

Tennessee’s drive toward the Southeastern Conference championship continues Saturday at Alabama. The teams are tied at the top with 12-3 records. Take it from an old-timer who has been there, the Tide in Tuscaloosa will be plenty tough.

One fretful fan said “Oh my, the schedule is so difficult.”

Barnes said “You can’t win big games unless you play big games.”

“I congratulated Coach Barnes and told him I hope he wins the league,” said Pearl. “That’s OK for an Auburn coach to say because he’s got the game of the year at Alabama.”

This was one of the games of the year. It had the feel of a tournament game. Tennessee had to win at home. Auburn competed fiercely.

“You score 84 points on the road, playing for a championship, that ought to be enough to win,” said Pearl. “Our defense definitely let us down.”

Tennessee hit 50 percent (54 in the second half). Tennessee hit nine of 18 three-point attempts. Tennessee won the backboard battle by six. Auburn had a better free-throw percentage. The Vols missed seven in the second half. There were 12 lead changes.

The Vols got into serious foul trouble in the first half. Knecht was whistled for his second with 9:40 remaining. Barnes gambled and left him in the game. Zakai Zeigler hit a long three in the closing second of the half for a 44-40 lead.

The Vols were ahead by eight early in the second half and too soon they were down by six. Big guy Johni Broome was hard to handle (he led the losers with 23 points and 10 rebounds). Four other Tigers scored in double figures.

At Tennessee’s low point, down 63-55 with 12:17 to go, Knecht answered the challenge. He scored the Vols’ next 11 points. Ziggy broke the streak with a three. Knecht promptly picked up where he left off. He finished with eight of the winners’ last 11 field goals.

Barnes said it was a terrific team triumph. Others did make major contributions. Ziggy didn’t shoot particularly well but he had 17 points and nine assists. Jonah Aidoo scored 14 and gathered seven rebounds – and five fouls. Tobe Awaka had nine points and five rebounds.

Barnes had a crisp summation of the clash.

“It was a high-level game. I thought both teams played extremely hard. Nothing easy came on either end. Both teams really impressed with all the players that played. Honestly, hard-fought game.”

Fans fuss about skimpy statistics from super seniors Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James. They scored two points each. Santi had a clutch offensive rebound and a layup in the final minute. JJJ had six rebounds and four blocked shots.

“That and their calmness,” said Barnes. “We need what they do. Those guys have been in games like this over their career. It is those winning plays that we talked about. Fix-it plays. It is their composure. They do a lot of coaching out there … those guys, they know exactly what’s going on … you yell one thing to them and they can fix it all … that is invaluable.

“That’s invaluable as a coach to have guys like that.”

Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is


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