Knecht Drops 39 in #4 Vols’ 92-84 Win over #11 Auburn
Courtesy / UT Athletics

Knecht Drops 39 in #4 Vols’ 92-84 Win over #11 Auburn

Game Recap: Men’s Basketball | February 28, 2024

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee men’s basketball team came back from an eight-point deficit with under 13 minutes to play Wednesday night, defeating No. 11 Auburn, 92-84, in a top-15 showdown in front of a record-setting crowd of 22,547 at Food City Center.

Fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht poured in a co-career-best 39 points, including 25 in the final 12:01, to lead fourth-ranked Tennessee (22-6, 12-3 SEC) to victory. His dazzling performance helped the program win its 12th straight home contest against an AP top-25 foe, good for an SEC record, including its ninth in a row against a top-15 opponent.

The Volunteers took a six-point lead on five separate occasions in the first frame, but never extended it beyond that. Twice, Auburn (21-7, 10-5 SEC) responded seven straight points, the second such occurrence coming late in the half in just 1:15 to go in front, 35-34, with 2:05 on the clock.

After the teams exchanged free throws, Tennessee went on an 8-3 run in the final 75 ticks of the session, capping it with a 3-pointer from junior guard Zakai Zeigler in the closing seconds to claim a 44-40 edge at the break. Both sides made 13 shots in the opening half, the home team on 28 attempts and the visitors on 30, while each only missed one free throw, as Tennessee shot 14-of-15 (93.3 percent) and Auburn went 9-of-10 (90.0 percent).

Zeigler opened the second half with another 3-pointer, giving the Volunteers their first three-possession advantage. Knecht added two free throws just 27 seconds later to make it a 13-3 extended burst and put Tennessee up by a game-best nine points, 49-40, with 19:08 to go.

The Tigers, though, countered by scoring 23 of the next 29 points in 5:59 to earn a game-high eight-point advantage, 63-55, with 12:17 remaining. Knecht then went on a personal 11-3 run in just 2:06 to level the score at 66 with 9:55 on the timer. After Auburn junior forward/center Johni Broome and Zeigler exchanged 3-pointers, Knecht hit back-to-back jump-shots, sandwiched around a free throw at the other end, to give his team a 73-70 lead with 8:05 left.

Knecht continued his red-hot shooting and helped the Volunteers go in front by five, 84-77, with 3:12 remaining. That made it a 29-14 run over 8:50, with Knecht scoring 23 of Tennessee’s first 27 points during the initial 7:39.

Auburn got back within four, 86-62, just 62 seconds later, but Tennessee scored the next four points—two by Knecht and two on a layup by fifth-year guard Santiago Vescovi after an offensive rebound on Knecht’s first miss after seven makes in a row—to take an eight-point cushion, 90-82, with 59 seconds to go.

The teams split the final four points and the Volunteers registered the eight-point victory. The victors outscored Auburn by 16, 37-21, in the last 12:01. Knecht had 25 of the Tennessee’s first 33 points in initial 10:07 of that stretch, shooting 9-of-10 from the floor, including 3-of-3 beyond the arc, and 4-of-6 at the line.

Knecht, who personally outscored the Tigers by four points in the last 12:01, amassed his 39 points on 12-of-21 field-goal shooting, a 5-of-8 3-point clip and a 10-of-12 ledger at the line. The two free-throw marks set season highs for Knecht, who now owns six 30-point games this season, tied for eighth-most in a campaign in program history, including four 35-point performances to tie for second-most.

The Thornton, Colo., native, who reached 25-plus points for the eighth time in the last 14 affairs, also tallied three steals and committed just one turnover in 33 minutes of action.

Zeigler ended the night just shy of a double-double, recording 17 points and a game-leading nine assists, while making all three of his 3-pointers. He became the first Volunteer this season to post a perfect mark from long range on at least three attempts.

Junior forward Jonas Aidoo tallied 14 points and a team-high seven rebounds for Tennessee, while sophomore forward Tobe Awaka had nine points and made all three of his field-goal attempts.

Broome paced the Tigers with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting and he pulled down a game-best nine rebounds, while leading his team with five assists. Junior guard/forward Chad Baker-Mazara had 13 points, although Tennessee limited him to 3-of-10 shooting, while graduate student forward Jaylin Williams scored 12 points.

Junior guard Denver Jones added 11 points for Auburn and senior guard K.D. Johnson chipped in 10, as the visitors had a quintet of double-digit scorers. Jones made all four his free throws and Johnson connected on all five of his.

The Volunteers shot 50.9 percent (28-of-55) from the floor, including a season-best 52.9 percent (9-of-17) on 3-pointers. They also went 27-of-35 (77.1 percent) at the line to set season highs in both makes and attempts.

Auburn logged similar shooting numbers, with respective 45.8 percent (27-of-59), 40.9 percent (9-of-22) and 75.0 percent (21-of-28) ledgers. Tennessee, though, had the same number of 3-point makes on five fewer tries while also notching an 18-11 margin in points off turnovers.

The Volunteers now head to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for a second straight top-15 matchup, this one with College GameDay on hand, as they face No. 14/13 Alabama at Coleman Coliseum, live on ESPN, Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.

To keep up with the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team on social media, follow @Vol_Hoops on Instagram and X/Twitter, as well as /tennesseebasketball on Facebook.  

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS POSTGAME NOTES
• Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes now owns 801 victories in his career, four behind Rick Byrd for No. 14 on the all-time wins list (min. 10 years at a Division I school).
• The Volunteers improved to 3-1 in their last four meetings with Auburn after dropping each of the prior six contests.
• Tennessee and Auburn have both been ranked in the AP Poll in four of their last eight meetings—the Volunteers are 3-1 in those contests—after that happened just twice in the first 85 clashes of the AP Poll era (1949-present).
• The Volunteers are now 74-22 (.771) as an AP top-10 team and 33-9 (.786) as an AP top-five team in Barnes’ nine-year tenure, all in the past seven seasons.
• Wednesday marked the seventh of eight confirmed sellouts in 2023-24, including the fourth of five straight to close the regular season.
• The crowd of 22,547 set a new venue record for largest announced attendance with the current seating capacity (21,678), breaking the prior record of 22,326 set on Jan. 7, 2009, versus Gonzaga.
• Three of the seven sellouts thus far in 2023-24 have featured an over-capacity crowd, with each of the last two featuring upwards of 22,300 in attendance, as 22,322 were at Saturday’s matchup with Texas A&M.
• The Volunteers moved to 13-5 (.722) all-time in AP top-15 clashes on their home court, including 13-3 (.813) in the past 16, 7-1 (.875) this century and a perfect 5-0 under Barnes.
• Wednesday marked the third time Tennessee has ever hosted a top-15 showdown in which it was ranked in the top five, joining an 82-71 victory over Texas on Jan. 28, 2023, and a 64-62 triumph over Vanderbilt on Jan. 8, 1968.
• The Volunteers are now 34-11 (.756) at home in AP top-25 showdowns, including 14-3 (.826) in Barnes’ tenure and 12-0 in the past dozen matchups since Jan. 30, 2021, against Kansas.
• Per CBS Sports, Tennessee’s 12 consecutive home triumphs over AP top-25 teams is a new SEC record.
• Tennessee moved to 25-20 (.556) in AP top-25 matchups under Barnes, including 19-13 (.594) with both teams in the top 20 and 11-7 (.611) with each in the top 15.
• The Volunteers improved to 27-27 (.500) versus AP top-20 teams under Barnes, including 20-20 (.500) against top-15 foes.
• Over its last 16 games against  top-15 opponents, dating back to Dec. 22, 2021, versus Arizona, Tennessee now owns a 13-3 (.813) record.
• Tennessee upped its record to 11-3 (.786) at home against top-15 opponents in Barnes’ tenure, including a perfect 9-0 in nine outings since Jan. 30, 2021, against Kansas.
• The Volunteers’ prior season-best 3-point percentage was a 45.8 (11-of-24) clip against LSU on Feb. 7.
• Tennessee’s previous season highs in free throws made and attempted both came against Illinois on Dec. 9, 2023, when it shot 26-of-34 (76.5 percent).
• Over the final 12:01 of the contest, Knecht scored 25 points and the Volunteers allowed only 21 at the other end.
• The Volunteers made their first 12 free-throws of the night and did not miss until 2:15 remained in the first half.
• With his first of two steals on the night,Vescovi became the second player all-time to record 200 in a Tennessee uniform.
• Vescovi also tied Wayne Chism (2006-10) for second place on the Volunteers’ all-time appearances leaderboard with his 142nd outing.
• With a career-high-tying four blocked shots in the contest, fifth-year guard Josiah-Jordan James became the 19th player in Tennessee history to reach triple digits, now possessing 103 blocks.
• James is now one of nine Volunteers ever to record 100-plus blocks and 100-plus steals, including the second—the other is Vincent Yarbrough (1998-2002)—to log 150-plus in the latter category.
• Zeigler became the first Tennessee player this season to make at least three 3-pointers in a contest without a miss.
• Four times this year, Knecht has scored 35-plus points after posting a high of 34 during his two seasons at Northern Colorado, notching that mark on Jan. 21, 2023, against Idaho.
• Knecht’s four 35-point games, in just 28 appearances at Tennessee, tie him for fourth-most in a career in program history, matching Tony White (1983-87), while trailing only the 11 by Bernard King (1974-77), the eight by Ernie Grunfeld (1973-77) and the six by Allan Houston (1989-93).
• The only other Tennessee players with four 35-point games in a season are White (1986-87), King (1975-76 and 1974-75) and Grunfeld (five in 1975-76).
• Knecht is the only Division I player this season to record four 35-point performances and the first Power Six player to do so in a full campaign since 2019-20 when Arkansas’ Mason Jones (five) and Marquette’s Markus Howard (eight) did so.
• Over at least the last 19 years (2005-24), Knecht is now the third SEC player with 35-plus points at least four times in a single season, joining Arkansas’ Mason Jones (five in 2019-20) and Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks (five in 2008-09).
• Knecht has now scored 30-plus points on nine occasions in his three-year Division I career, including six times in 2023-24 and five in the past 13 outings.
• The six 30-point showings for Knecht move him into a tie for eighth-most on Tennessee’s all-time leaderboard, matching Reggie Johnson (1976-80).
• Only six other Volunteers—nine occurrences—have scored 30-plus six times in a single campaign: Bernard King (10 in 1974-75, nine in 1976-77 and seven in 1975-76), Tony White (nine in 1986-87), Allan Houston (eight in 1989-90 and six in 1990-91), Dale Ellis (seven in 1982-83), Ernie Grunfeld (seven in 1975-76) and Chris Lofton (six in 2006-07).
• Across at least the past 19 seasons (2005-24), Knecht is now the sixth SEC player with 30-plus points at least six times in a single campaign, alongside Arkansas’ Mason Jones (nine in 2019-20), Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks (seven in 2008-09), LSU’s Marcus Thornton (seven in 2008-09), South Carolina’s Devan Downey (six in 2009-10) and Tennessee’s Chris Lofton (six in 2006-07).
• Entering Wednesday, the only five Division I players with six 30-point performances this year—a group Knecht is now part of—were Denver’s Tommy Bruner (nine), Purdue’s Zach Edey (seven), Georgetown’s Jayden Epps (six), Southern Illinois’ Xavier Johnson (six) and Green Bay’s Noah Reynolds (six).
• Knecht now owns 17 25-point showings as a Division I player, with nine of them this season, including eight over the past 14 games.
• Entering Wednesday, only 14 Division I players had nine 25-point outings this season, a group Knecht has now joined.
• Knecht is just the 12th SEC player in the last 19 seasons (2005-24) to register at least nine 25-point showings in a one campaign.
• In his three Division I seasons, Knecht has now scored 20-plus points 33 times, including 14 times in his lone year as a Volunteer and in 11 of the last 14 contests.
• Knecht is the fourth SEC player in the last 12 years (2012-24) to record 14-plus points in at least 14 straight league games in a single campaign, joining Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves (2023-24), South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell (2016-17) and Alabama’s Retin Obasohan (2015-16), while only three others—Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins (2011-12), Alabama’s JaMychal Green (2010-11) and Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks (2008-09)—did so in the prior seven seasons (2005-12).
• On 10 now occasions this season, Knecht has recorded double-digit points in both halves of a single contest.
• Knecht’s previous season high in made free throws was nine on Jan. 16 against Florida (9-of-9), while his previous top tally in attempts was 10 on two occasions, hitting that figure on both Jan. 30 versus South Carolina (6-of-10) and on Feb. 14 at Arkansas (7-of-10).

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