Vols fall short of greatness but what a fight

Marvin Westwestwords

Tennessee again fell short of basketball greatness. The Vols lost to Purdue, 72-66, in the Elite Eight. The Final Four remains a dream, out there somewhere. A few times it seemed within reach.

The Boilermakers blocked that thought by winning the war that raged within a few feet of the rim. The Vols simply could not stop Zach Edey, 7-4 and 303 pounds, from muscling his way to 13 field goals.

The guys in orange fought back fiercely and fouled him 16 times. Edey absorbed aggressive arm-bars and knocked Vols back without changing expressions. It was his kind of fight. He hit 14 of 22 free throws.

Zach’s totals were 40 points and 16 rebounds. He didn’t assert himself on defense but he was always in the way if the Vols ventured into the paint. Edey blocked a Dalton Knecht shot in the closing minute just to show he could.

Knecht lived up to all-American expectations. He scored 37, a school record in NCAA tournament play, one point more than Ernie Grunfeld’s most productive game.

In addition to what he did, Knecht said some things that mattered, that he absolutely loves his teammates and coaches, that he is thankful to them for accepting him, that this experience will be unforgettable.

“I so wish we could have one more game.”

Some of us wished for two … but what a joyous season these Volunteers delivered, 27-9, home and away wins over Alabama, the SEC team still in the race.

Let us celebrate Knecht time and Ziggy zest and the guys who never gave less than full effort. They made some memories that really should last. They hung more than a hundred on Kentucky in Lexington and knocked another knot on dear old Tarleton State.

This show is over.

Vols forward J.P. Estrella #13 finds the basket

Santiago Vescovi and Josiah-Jordan James, undoubtedly respected and maybe beloved, are going, going, gone. Drama remains. J.P. Estrella looms as a future star. The transfer portal is a two-way street. We’ll know later who comes and who goes. Could be a Rick Barnes assistant gets a head job. Could be next year is almost as good.

This final game was good. Tennessee unraveled an impressive first-half run, a 16-2 streak to seize a 32-21 lead. Vols hit a flurry of three-point shots. Purdue answered with a 13-0 hot streak and was up by two at intermission.

As expected, the Vols had foul troubles. Boilermakers were plus-nine in rebounds. Knecht had scored 18. Jonas Aidoo appeared overmatched. He was scoreless.

Too many times Purdue guards got Edey the ball where he wanted it, low in the center of the lane. This was a dilemma for the Tennessee defense. It had to play behind the giant. If it tried to play in front and deny passes, high throws would have led to easy layups.

The second half stayed relatively close despite a five-minute Tennessee dry spell. Purdue was up 54-46 when the Vols rallied – Knecht on a drive, Justin Gainey with a three, Knecht with a layup, Knecht with a bomb to tie at 56.

Key in Purdue’s closing breakaway was a three by Lance Jones.

Tennessee guard Josiah-Jordan James #30 shows intensity

This tangle of arms and legs shows both teams battling. Purdue #2 is Fletcher Loyer, who scored 14 for the Boilermakers; defenders are Santiago Vescovi #25 and Dalton Knecht #3.

The Vols were skimpy in scoring support of Knecht. Zakai Zeigler hit three of 12 and scored nine. He had eight assists. JJJ was more accurate and scored eight. Gainey added six. Vescovi played 13 minutes but appeared low on energy. Aidoo played 10 minutes. He tried.

Edey thought Tobe Awaka gave him the most physical resistance. Estrella, 6-11 and 233, battled. Of course, Jahmai Mashack was in and out of the combat zone.

Tennessee’s field goal percentage was 38.7. It hit 11 of 26 long shots. Purdue dominated in rebounding. Foul calls were 25-12. Hmmmm.

Barnes did not criticize officials. He said Edey was difficult to guard and difficult to officiate. There was often a question of who was pushing who the hardest.

Barnes said both teams fought hard.

“I thought our guys really put up a battle. We were playing against a guy that has unique skills.”

Barnes said his players were hurt deeply by the loss.

“I wish I could change the outcome for them but they’ll look back and know they went after it and have no regrets.

“God has blessed me with the time I’ve had with these guys. It’s something I wish every coach could enjoy.”

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


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *