Vols overwhelm Aggies, gain share of SEC lead

Marvin Westwestwords

If it had been boxing instead of basketball, the referee would have stopped the fight, invoked the mercy rule and awarded a technical knockout.

Tennessee absolutely overwhelmed Texas A&M, 86-51, on an unforgettable Saturday night in Big Orange Country. The setting was electric. The overflow crowd, hungry for revenge, played hard. Fifty-one points was the low for the season for the determined Volunteer defense. It limited the Aggies to 27 percent.

Never has there been such a wonderful difference in home and away. The Vols lost by 16 at College Station and won by 35 at Food City Center.

“I am so proud of the team,” said Rick Barnes.

The coach had several reasons. The Vols are now tied with Alabama for first place in the Southeastern Conference race. Zakai Zeigler delivered an astounding performance, a career-high 14 assists, a career-high nine rebounds, a dramatic defensive effort and an unbelievable layup. Tennessee won the battle for rebounds and it really wasn’t close. Jonas Aidoo had 14 and 18 points.

Season numbers say the Aggies are one of the best rebounding teams in the country.

Vol shooting star Dalton Knecht had a ho-hum evening of 24 points and seven rebounds. Santiago Vescovi registered the 199th steal of his exciting career. Tobe Awaka was again a warrior, 12 points, six rebounds, five field goals in six attempts. The man with muscles discouraged intruders in the paint.

Aggie top guards Wade Taylor and Tyrece Redford were perfect examples of what happened to the visitors. They were limited to 11 points each and missed 21 shots. In their home game, they combined for 52 points and seemingly hit everything.

Taylor was hot at the start. He hit three threes in the first five minutes and was shut down thereafter. He made two free throws after they no longer mattered.

Texas A&M was competitive for much of the first half. The score was even at 24 with 4:33 remaining. Tennessee raced to intermission with a 15-3 burst. The second half was stunning. The Vols won, 49-24. They hit 57 percent.

If retaliation for what happened two weeks ago was motivation, Aidoo had reason to overachieve. He struggled at Texas A&M. He played about half that game, scored six points and claimed five rebounds.

Barnes didn’t single him out but Jonas was in the group that the coach described as “not very good.”

This time, he was very good. He finished one rebound short of his career-high. He blocked three shots.

“We all knew we had to do better in this game,” said Barnes. “Down there, they just had their way with us … they’re difficult to play against … rebounding was a big deal.

“We’ve obviously talked about that. And we’re talking about one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, and we certainly didn’t want them to get in the lane and make it a jumping contest.”

The coach said Aidoo was “terrific getting his hands up and rebounding the ball with two hands. They’re a team that you got to work to get it because they are relentless in coming after it. Even when you get it, they stay after it.

“But when Jonas plays with an aggressive attitude, he’s as effective as anybody in the country that plays his position.”

Barnes said he felt that everyone that went in this game impacted the outcome in some way.

“It was really a great mindset … and a great team victory.”

This was career victory 800 for Barnes. He didn’t want the story to be about him.

“It’s really the motto in our program, it’s not about me.

“God has truly blessed me with players and coaches and administrations and certainly a family that has been with me every step of the way.

“I’ve been doing this a long time, obviously, but I’m just thankful, blessed. And I do know this, that every time that I thought I could do it on my own, it didn’t work. I just thank God for looking out for me through the years. Because there have been times that I really messed it up and I appreciate Him not quitting on me and keeping me where I needed to be.

“I’m really thankful for the players. I know what grind they put in every day, and our coaches and people, our program. I’ve just been blessed with having a chance to be around some wonderful people.”

This is Barnes’ 37th season, his ninth at Tennessee. His record with the Vols is 196-98.

There is more work to be done. Auburn will be the Wednesday opponent in Knoxville. After the Tigers, Tennessee will play at Alabama and South Carolina. Kentucky comes to town for the regular-season finale.

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


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