Vols win, one more to Final Four

Marvin Westwestwords

This was a really big win, Tennessee 82, Creighton 75, with great defense and a historical 18-0 run. Only once have Volunteers been so deep in March Madness.

It was a personal prize for “regular-season” Rick Barnes. He has endured so much criticism for falling short in tournaments.

Deeper drama awaits in the Elite Eight, Sunday afternoon against Purdue.

The three faces of Easter – Christianity, fancy hats and colored eggs – are now four, meaningful basketball. One more opens the door to the Final Four. Oh my, that is almost poetic.

Guard Josiah-Jordan James #30 shoots over junior guard Trey Alexander #23 of Creighton.

Tennessee deserved to win the Friday game. It played heart-and-soul defense. Jahmai Mashack set the tone. The 18-point outburst early in the second half was almost overwhelming. Creighton never fully recovered but it did fight back. It reduced the deficit to three. Dalton Knecht responded with back-to-back threes to regain momentum.

The all-American worked very hard to score 24 points. He was fully engaged. He contributed six rebounds, five assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

Josiah-Jordan James turned in an outstanding performance, 17 points, two missed shots, determined defense.

Zakai Zeigler scored 18, had four rebounds, six assists and one turnover, just one. The Bluejays had a very difficult time running their offense because of Mashack and Ziggy.

Mashack, substitute starter because Santiago Vescovi was ill, did some of everything and all at full speed. He had two goals, eight rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks. The Bluejays may see him in their nightmares.

Creighton’s core four fought a good fight. Baylor Scheierman led with 25 points. Steve Ashworth had 16, 7-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner 14 and Trey Alexander 13.

Tennessee hit 41.8 percent from the floor. Creighton hit 44.8. Both had 11 threes.

“A lot of hard work paid off,” said James. “Mashack established the pace. He means so much to the team. With Santi sidelined, Shack was the next man up.”

JJJ said he is proud to be a part of this hard-nosed team.

Asked about the Sunday challenge against Purdue, James said the Vols “wouldn’t have it any other way.”

The Boilermakers defeated the Vols, 71-67, on November 21 in the Maui Invitational.

James said it is a blessing to be in the Elite Eight.

“We’ve put in so much work, for me for five years … Just to have this moment with these guys making history. And we’re not done yet, we know that. We’re so happy to be one step closer to our end goal. It’s amazing to see all our hard work finally pay off.”

JJJ had more to say about Mashack, that he is one of the cornerstones, that the effort he brings doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet “but the guys in the locker room know.

“Those two, Ziggy and Shack, are two of the best defenders in the country and two of the toughest guys I’ve ever been around.”

Mashack put his part into perspective.

“I’ve been raised to prosper in tough situations, and when my name is called, to rise up to that occasion.”

There were eight lead changes in the first half. Tennessee was a point behind at intermission. It was behind by 39-37 when the hot streak hit. Knecht hit a pair of free throws. JJJ made an eight-footer. Knecht drove for a goal, picked off a pass and threw to Mashack on the break.

Creighton called time out. It didn’t help.

Zeigler hit a three. Mashack scored with a rebound. James connected from long range to make it 55-39. Creighton took another time out. It had endured more than five scoreless minutes.

The Bluejays eventually launched a run of their own, nine points in a row. It was 62-59 when Knecht connected twice. Tobe Awaka scored on a give and go and added a free throw. Those were the pivotal points. Creighton fouled to slow the clock. The Vols responded with 11 free throws out of 12 attempts.

Barnes said he was really proud of the defensive effort. He said it was a great victory for the Tennessee program. He said the team came into the game with a “terrific mindset” and stayed with it throughout.

Great win for our program. These guys up here, I just thought they were terrific with a mindset coming in and continuing with it throughout the game.

“If you were with us every day, I think you’d understand why I love coaching so much because what you saw these guys do tonight, I watch them do it every day.

“It’s their effort … They demand it from each other … The days when they’re a little tired, maybe I get on them, but otherwise they do a pretty good job pushing themselves and coaching themselves, knowing what it takes to win at this level.”

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


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