#4 Vols Notch 81-74 Comeback Win at #14/13 Alabama
Courtesy / UT Athletics

#4 Vols Notch 81-74 Comeback Win at #14/13 Alabama

Game Recap: Men’s Basketball | March 02, 2024

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – After its early 11-point lead become a seven-point second-half deficit Saturday night at No. 14/13 Alabama, the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team stormed back to claim its second top-15 win of the week with an 81-74 triumph.

In a matchup of the conference’s co-lead, fourth-ranked Tennessee (23-6, 13-3 SEC) got a team-best 18 points from junior guard Zakai Zeigler at a sold-out Coleman Coliseum. The Crimson Tide had won 16 straight SEC games in the building, which held College GameDay earlier in the afternoon for the first time ever.

The Volunteers scored 10 straight points in just 2:59 midway through the opening half to grab an 11-point edge, 23-12, with 10:53 on the clock. They held Alabama (20-9, 12-4 SEC) scoreless for a span of 3:46 and made eight of their first 14 shots, while the home team hit just four of its opening 15.

The Crimson Tide hit six of their next seven field-goal attempts, sparking a 17-7 run to slice the deficit to one, but Tennessee answered with the next nine in just 1:09, going back up by 10, 39-29, with 3:47 left in the frame. Alabama, though, scored the final 12 points of the session, all in a span of 2:27, and took a 39-37 advantage into the locker room.

After a 10-of-21 start from the field, Tennessee went 2-of-11 down the stretch of the half and finished it 12-of-32 (37.5 percent), including 5-of-21 (23.8 percent) beyond the arc. At the other end, the Crimson Tide made 10 of its final 16 shots to post a 14-of-31 (45.2 percent) clip, including a 7-of-20 (35.0 percent) ledger on 3-pointers. Both teams missed just two free throws, but the Volunteers attempted 12 and conceded only eight.

Alabama logged five of the second half’s opening six points, making it a 17-1 extended surge over 4:31, to take a then-game-best six-point lead, 46-40, but Tennessee countered with a 9-2 burst featuring a trio of 3-pointers in 1:08 to go back in front, 49-48, with 16:53 to go.

The Volunteers, however, missed their next 10 field goals—part of a 1-of-13 stretch—and Alabama went on a 10-2 run during 3:32 of that span, going up by a game-high seven points, 58-51, with 13:43 remaining. Tennessee responded with a 19-7 burst—the Crimson Tide had its own 1-of-17 stretch from the field—to go ahead by five, 70-65, with 3:38 left.

Tennessee pushed the margin up to seven, 79-72, with 17.2 seconds remaining and the two sides exchanged the final four points to make it a seven-point final margin. Zeigler iced the game at the line with 5.4 seconds to go.

After allowing the Crimson Tide to start 6-of-8 from the field, including 2-of-4 beyond the arc, in the first five-and-a-half minutes of the second half, Tennessee held their opponent to a 3-of-21 mark from the floor. Alabama, KenPom’s top-ranked offense in the country, missed all 13 of its 3-point attempts during that time against the stingy Tennessee defense.

Zeigler scored 13 of his 18 points in the second half and paced Tennessee with four assists in the game. Fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht tallied 13 points, his second-lowest total in SEC play, as he battled foul trouble, but hit a key jump-shot with 2:30 left to triple the lead.

Junior forward Jonas Aidoo, who played only 23 minutes after committing two fouls in the first five minutes of the contest, finished with 12 points—all but two came in the second half—and seven rebounds.

Fifth-year guard Josiah-Jordan James, who tipped out a missed free throw in the closing seconds leading to Zeigler’s game-clinching shots at the line, totaled 11 points and a season-best 13 rebounds, one shy of his career high, to lead all players. The Charleston, S.C., native shot 3-of-6 from 3-point range. Jordan Gainey added nine points and fellow junior guard Jahmai Mashack posted eight to go along with a season-high-tying six rebounds.

Alabama senior guard Mark Sears led all scorers with 22 points, but Tennessee limited him to a 2-of-8 clip from long range. Graduate student guard Aaron Estrada had 16 points and eight rebounds, while senior forward Nick Pringle compiled 13 points and a team-best nine boards.

In a matchup of two vaunted offensive attacks, both sides shot under 40 percent on the night, but Tennessee took three more 3-pointers, all of which were makes, as it went 12-of-40 (30.0 percent) and allowed a 9-of-37 (24.3 percent). The Volunteers also had a 15-10 advantage in second-chance points

Up next for Tennessee is its road finale and its third of four straight top-20 matchups, as it travels to Columbia, S.C., where Wednesday at 7 p.m. it faces No. 18 South Carolina at Colonial Life Arena, live on ESPN2.

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 802 victories in his career, three behind Rick Byrd for No. 14 on the all-time wins list (min. 10 years at a Division I school).
• The Volunteers upped their winning streak against Alabama to three in a row, with the Crimson Tide in the KenPom top seven for all three contests.
• Nine of the last 11 matchups, including seven of the past eight, between Tennessee and Alabama have been determined by single digits.
• Tennessee’s victory snapped Alabama’s 16-game home winning streak in SEC play, as it last lost to a conference foe at Coleman Coliseum exactly two years ago when it dropped an 81-77 decision versus Texas A&M, after which it went 9-0 last season and started 7-0 in 2023-24.
• In two matchups with Tennessee, Alabama has posted its lowest point total (71 on Jan. 20 in Knoxville, Tenn.) and co-second-lowest point total of the season, as half of its four outings with under 75 points are against the Volunteers.
• The Volunteers have now won back-to-back games over AP top-15 foes—with no other outings in between—for the first time in over 24 years, as they last did so on Jan. 18/25, 2000, when they won at ninth-ranked Florida, 81-79, in double-overtime and then beat seventh-ranked Auburn, 105-76, both while ranked in the top 20.
• The last time Tennessee won back-to-back contests versus AP top-25 teams—with no other games in between—was over 17 years ago, as it last did so on Feb. 10/13, 2007, when it claimed consecutive home triumphs over No. 23 Vanderbilt, 83-57, and No. 20 Kentucky, 89-85, both while unranked.
• Tennessee improved to 26-20 (.565) in AP top-25 matchups under Barnes, including 20-13 (.606) with both teams in the top 20 and 12-7 (.632) with each in the top 15.
• With a 2-0 mark this season, the Volunteers are now 3-3 (.500) in AP top-15 road matchups during Barnes’ tenure.
• Tennessee upped its record to 4-1 in its last five games on the road against AP top-15 teams, dating back to March 3, 2020—a victory, while unranked, at sixth-ranked Kentucky—after previously dropping 10 such games in a row over the course of seven seasons.
• The Volunteers moved to 28-27 (.509) versus AP top-20 teams under Barnes, including 21-20 (.512) against top-15 foes.
• Over its last 17 games against top-15 opponents, going back to Dec. 22, 2021, against Arizona, Tennessee now possesses a 14-3 (.824) record.
• Saturday marked just the third time in the last 16 seasons (2008-24) the Volunteers took 40-plus free throws, including the first such occasion in SEC play, as the prior ones were Nov. 7, 2022, against Tennessee Tech (14-of-44) and Nov. 9, 2021, versus UT-Martin (17-of-40).
• Aidoo and sophomore forward Tobe Awaka each had two fouls by the 11:43 mark of the opening half, with the former playing just 4:37 first-half minutes and the latter only 3:40.
• Fifth-year guard Santiago Vescovi passed Wayne Chism (2006-10) for sole possession of second place on the Volunteers’ all-time games played list with his 143rd appearance.
• James passed Josh Richardson (2011-15) to enter the top 10 on Tennessee’s career minutes played leaderboard, now with 3,848.
• The double-double for James marked his eighth as a collegian, including his third this season.
• James pulled down double-digit rebounds for the 13th time in his career, including the third in 2023-24.
• James’ previous season high in rebounds was 12, which he recorded on Nov. 20, 2023, versus Syracuse in Honolulu.
• The prior game this season in which Mashack pulled down six rebounds was on Jan. 10 at Mississippi State.
• Knecht is the fifth SEC player in the last 19 years (2005-24) to record 13-plus points in at least 15 straight league games in a single campaign, joining Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves (2023-24), Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins (2011-12), Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks (2008-09) and LSU’s Glen Davis (2005-06).

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