Vols knock out Peacocks, look to Texas game

Marvin Westwestwords

Hip, hip, high-ho and away they go.

Tennessee overwhelmed Saint Peter’s Peacocks, 83-49. The Volunteers, 22-point favorites, stopped the two-game losing streak and righted their sailing ship. They can now look boldly at big challenges ahead.

Rick Barnes is up to 28-27 on the NCAA tournament coaching scoreboard. You are correct, the story should not be about him – but it is.

He has directed 200 victories on behalf of Tennessee. He will have a chance to soar higher on Saturday (tipoff is 8 p.m. on CBS) against his former school, Texas, and push the Vols one step closer to their first Final Four. It is far, far away. So says the coach.

“It’s really hard to win a national title,” Barnes said. “Believe me I wish we could win it but I know how hard it is. We have tried every year to be a team that plays on the final Monday night.”

The Vols played very well late on Thursday night in Charlotte (unless it was Friday morning). The poor Peacocks, No. 15 in seeding, never had a chance. They made it into the tournament with inside shooting and couldn’t get inside against Tennessee.

The Vols dominated with tenacious defense and took full advantage of their size. They started fast, shot 64 percent and ran to a 46-20 first-half lead. The Peacocks couldn’t hide their frustration.

Tennessee accuracy dropped off after intermission – to 39 percent. Everybody got to play. The Vols had a 47-21edge in rebounding. They won in the paint, 28-16. Alas, they had 15 turnovers and missed seven free throws.

Dalton Knecht was again a star with 23 points (eight of 15 shooting, four of eight threes). He had eight rebounds.

Zakai Zeigler was at least a co-star. He scored 11 and had 10 assists with only two turnovers.

Good news was Santiago Vescovi hit a pair of threes. Teammates made a fuss over him.

Latrell Reid was the only Peacock who scored in double figures. He had 17. Armoni Zeigler, Ziggy’s half-brother, played three minutes and had no statistics. The losers shot 23 percent in the first half and didn’t get a lot better after the rest stop.

Corey Washington, Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference player of the year, scored two points. He went one for nine.

In truth, the Peacocks are from a different basketball world. Their conference foes are Quinnipiac, Fairfield, Marist, Rider, Iona, Siena and others you may not know.

Saint Peter’s gym, the Victor R. Yanitelli S.J. Recreational Life Center, has an air-supported roof and 1,800 seats. That is more than enough.

Barnes made a point of congratulating the Peacocks’ accomplishments. They won 19 games and gave good effort against the Vols.

He spoke warmly of his team.

“I’m proud of our preparation and focus. We worked hard on details. Saint Peter’s is an inside shooting team. Our plan was not giving them room to operate. Our size helped take away windows.”

Barnes was pleased with the recovery from the previous losses, to Kentucky and Mississippi State.

“We are very transparent. We talked about what had been done poorly. We made some corrections. We took care of business.”

Barnes said, if he had a choice, he’d really rather some other team than Texas was the next opponent. He coached the Longhorns for 17 seasons, was fired because he refused to change his coaching staff and was hired the next day by Tennessee.

One of his former assistants, Rodney Terry, is the current coach at Texas.

Barnes watched one of the current Longhorns, Brock Cunningham, play as a young boy. The families were friends. The coach has a ton of other ties in Austin.

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


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