Barnes is beneficiary as Vols defeat Longhorns

Marvin Westwestwords

There wasn’t anything tough Texas could do about Tennessee at the free-throw line.

The Longhorns just stood there as Volunteers hit six consecutive clutch shots in the closing seconds for a squeaky-close 62-58 victory at Charlotte Saturday night.

Fouls were deliberate to stop the clock. Texas, down by 12 at its worst, fought back to within one. When it mattered most, Jonas Aidoo responded with a pair of free throws and Dalton Knecht made four.

The All-American hit only five of 18 shots from the floor (one of eight threes) but with the game on the line, Knecht asked for the ball.

“I wanted the ball in my hands. I told Ziggy (Zakai Zeigler). Despite my shooting performance, they trusted me to take those free throws. I can’t thank my teammates and coaching staff enough.”

Knecht contributed nine rebounds.

Determined (fierce) defense was decisive. Texas lost the ball 17 times. Rick Barnes said, without the great defensive effort, it would have been hard to win while shooting 33 percent.

It was hard to win the way it was. The summation was simple, survive and advance. Next stop: Sweet 16 in Detroit against Creighton.

The Vols didn’t say much about it but there were several indicators that their extra effort was for the coach. Barnes endures frequent criticism because his NCAA tournament record is mediocre and so many losses have been to lowly seeds.

This was a 2-7 matchup. It would have been a minor upset if Texas had won. This Tennessee team just wasn’t going to let it happen.

“We played with heart,” said Santiago Vescovi.

There was another aspect. Nine years ago, Texas fired Barnes for being a tad out of step, a bit behind the times for glamorous Austin. He was no longer milking the millionaires. He was getting old. He was 60.

Good ole Rick looked quick – and rather crisp – on this night in Charlotte. He stayed awake for the whole game. He is 201 and 99 since the pick slip. There must be some satisfaction in being two games over .500 as an NCAA tournament coach.

Barnes coached brilliantly on free throws. Tennessee hit 15 of 18. He was not so good on three-point shots – three made, 22 missed, 12 percent.

Knecht finished with 18 hard-earned points. Zeigler was worse. He scored six on two-of-12 shooting. Josiah-Jordan James was more efficient. He had nine points and nine rebounds. Tobe Awaka was on his way to stardom with 10 points and five rebounds (four-of-five from the floor) but four fouls limited his time to 11 minutes.

Barnes said this was the kind of game that gets you bounced out of tournaments “when you shoot as poorly as we did, but we found a way with our defense.

“I knew they were going to play so hard. They knew we were going to play hard. They did an incredible job on Dalton.”

He described the effort as “incredible” by both teams.

“Exactly the way we described it to our players as we were getting ready for this game.”

Barnes hinted at the emotion involved, about his utmost respect for Texas. He said he is thankful for “so many guys on that bench that have been a huge part of my life.”

He said he got a lot of texts from a lot of former players.

“There’s a love affair there and a family that – well, I’m part of that family, and I always will be. I’m thankful that God has blessed me with the opportunity to be at a lot of great universities, 17 years there, now nine at Tennessee. Honestly, I couldn’t be in a better place than I am right now.”

Two guys having fun: Zakai Zeigler #5 and Jordan Gainey #2. (Photo/ Tennessee Athletics)

Texas coach Rodney Terry said congratulations, how much he appreciates Barnes and the respect he has for the Tennessee defense.

“They played hard, really tough. Coach gets guys to play really hard and that’s a talent, and that’s coaching. If you can get your guys to buy into playing really hard – defense, rebounding, being physical – that’s coaching. Coach has done it for a long time at a very high level.”

Terry said he was proud of the defensive job his Longhorns did. He had some Knecht stats.

“Any time you have a guy that can carry a team – he had 18 points and had to take 18 shots to get those 18 points, but he’s a terrific player. He is a really hard one-on-one matchup that could take over a game …”

Terry said Knecht is a big-time player. Then he said what he really thinks.

“The head of the snake is that little dude. He causes a lot of problems out there. He’s all over the place defensively. He’s defensive player of the year in the SEC. He’s causing all kind of havoc.”

The coach was talking about Ziggy.

“He can get into the teeth of the defense and get something for himself or create for a teammate. Dalton’s had a special year, but he probably didn’t have that special year if it weren’t for the little guy. He’s the head of the snake. He’s a really terrific player.”

Interesting. Barnes has never said that about Zakai Zeigler.

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


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