Vols finally broke away, crushed Vandy

Marvin Westwestwords

Be on the lookout for the forthcoming Vanderbilt highlights video and maybe a billboard with bright flashing lights. The Commodores led Tennessee by nine in the first half. They were up by five at intermission. The game was even at 48 with 13 minutes remaining.

This was happy time, a cause for celebration, undoubtedly Vandy’s best performance of a mediocre season.

Suddenly there was a turn of events, a 13-3 run. The Vols crushed the Commodores 27-14 in the closing stretch. The end was shocking. Tennessee won going away, 75-62.

Tennessee fans didn’t want to go away. They were a heavy majority in Memorial Gym, in full voice and very proud of the Vols’ 15-4 record and Dalton Knecht.

Dalton was again sensational. He scored 32 (11 in the first half, 21 in showtime, 11 consecutive in a little hot streak). He had six rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots. He looked very much like an all-American.

“Dalton loves to play. He loves the game. The time he puts in, it’s rewarding him,” said Rick Barnes.

“We still, honestly, think he can get better and the more we play, the better he’s going to get.”

Knecht is the first in 14 years to score 25-plus points in four consecutive Southeastern Conference games.

Santiago Vescovi scored 12 and had five rebounds. Zakai Zeigler and Jordan Gainey scored 10 each. Jonas Aidoo had only nine points but 10 rebounds.

Tennessee hit 49 percent from the field and 41 on threes but missed seven free throws.

Tyrin Lawrence led the losers with 21 points. Ezra Manton scored 14 but missed nine shots.

As good as Knecht was, Barnes said the guy he thought that blew the game open was Gainey.

“His three from the corner, when they went 1-3-1 zone, was a huge play.”

The Gainey goal lifted Tennessee’s lead to 58-48 with 8:59 left. Vandy was spent. It never seriously threatened again.

Barnes saw other interesting tidbits.

“Jahmai Mashack came in and got two rebounds. I thought that’s when the game kind of tilted our way.”

The coach made a point of recognizing freshman J.P. Estrella’s contribution.

“Big minutes. He’s earning it in practice and those are big minutes. We need Toby (Awaka) to stay out of foul trouble.”

Estrella played five minutes, scored a basket and got three rebounds. Awaka played five and all he got was two quick fouls.

Josiah-Jordan James played 28 minutes and didn’t score. He missed only two shots.

Barnes was tagged with a technical foul that cost the Vols two points.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever had one when I was talking to one referee and another guy called it. But he thought I deserved it and give him credit for it.”

Bits ‘n pieces

The Volunteers are 12-1 in their last 13 games against Vanderbilt, going back to Jan. 9, 2018. Tennessee has 130 victories over Vanderbilt, 30 more than they have against any other team.

The previous Vol with at least four 30-point performances in a season was Chris Lofton, who had six in 2006-07.

Tennessee plays at Food City Center on Tuesday against much-improved South Carolina. The Gamecocks are 17-3 overall and 5-2 in the SEC.

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


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