Vols Take Down Creighton, 82-75, to Claim Second Elite Eight Berth
Courtesy / UT Athletics

Vols Take Down Creighton, 82-75, to Claim Second Elite Eight Berth

DETROIT – The University of Tennessee men’s basketball team defeated No. 11-ranked, third-seeded Creighton, 82-75, Friday night at Little Caesars Arena to earn the second Elite Eight appearance in program history.

Fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht scored a game-high 26 points for sixth-ranked, second-seeded Tennessee (27-8, 14-4 SEC), which played without five-year starter Santiago Vescovi (flu) in the victory.

The entire first half stayed within an eight-point window, as neither team led by greater than four. After a 2-of-7 start from 3-point range, Creighton (25-10, 14-6 BE) made four of its next five attempts to go ahead, 33-29, with 2:21 on the timer. The Volunteers tallied the next five points to go back in front just 1:24 later, but the Bluejays scored the final basket of the frame to take a 35-34 edge at the break.

Tennessee notched an 8-0 edge in points off turnovers and a 7-0 tally in bench points, while also scoring the only three fast-break points of the opening 20 minutes, but shot 41.2 percent (14-of-34) from the field compared to the Bluejays’ 44.8 percent (13-of-29) ledger.

The Volunteers created separation early in the second half, blitzing Creighton with an 18-0 run in just 4:50 to claim a 16-point lead, 55-39, with 13:59 remaining. They held the Bluejays scoreless for a stretch of 5:25.

Creighton, however, responded with a 20-7 surge in 6:07 to get the margin down to three, 62-59, with 6:04 to play. Knecht answered with a 3-pointer at the other end, but Creighton then hit one of its own to again make it a three-point game with 4:45 to go, but Knecht drilled another one just 13 seconds later to double the margin.

A layup by the Bluejays made it 68-64 with 4:17 on the clock, but they never got any closer than that. A three-point play by sophomore forward Tobe Awaka pushed the margin to seven, 71-64, with 1:39 remaining, with his free throw igniting a stretch during which Tennessee went 7-of-8 at the line to extend the lead all the way to 11, 77-66, with 30.6 ticks left.

Creighton hit three 3-pointers in 13 seconds, the first of which snapped a drought of 3:58 without a basket, to get within five, 80-75, but Knecht knocked down two free throws with 4.9 seconds on the clock to seal the seven-point decision.

In addition to scoring 26 points, his 12th time with 25-plus this season, Knecht pulled down six rebounds, dished out five assists, notched two steals and blocked one shot. The Thornton, Colo., native became the 12th Division I player, including only the second from the SEC, ever to post that line in an NCAA Tournament contest. He went 3-of-7 on 3-pointers and 7-of-8 at the line in the win.

Junior guard Zakai Zeigler scored 18 points and led all players with six assists, breaking the Tennessee record for career assists in NCAA Tournament play in the process. He played all 40 minutes for the second straight game and committed just one turnover, while shooting 3-of-6 from long range.

Fifth-year guard Josiah-Jordan James tallied 15 points, finishing 4-of-6 from the field, 3-of-5 beyond the arc and a perfect 4-of-4 at the line. Junior guard Jahmai Mashack, who started in place of Vescovi, led all players with a co-career-best eight rebounds, snatching a career-high-tying five at the offensive end.

Baylor Scheierman scored 25 points to pace the Bluejays, shooting 8-of-19 from the floor, 4-of-9 on 3-pointers and an unblemished 5-of-5 on free throws. Fellow senior guard Steven Ashworth totaled 16 points, going 6-of-9 overall, including 4-of-6 from deep.

Senior center Ryan Kalkbrenner notched 14 points and a co-team-high seven rebounds for Creighton, matching junior guard Trey Alexander, who scored 13 points, in the latter category. The Volunteers held Alexander to 3-of-12 shooting from the field, including to five points on a 1-of-10 clip until the final minute.

The teams posted similar clips in all three shooting categories. Tennessee went 28-of-67 (41.8 percent) overall, 11-of-24 (45.8 percent) from deep and 15-of-18 (83.3 percent) at the line, including 12-of-14 (85.7 percent) in the latter category over the final 99 seconds. Creighton shot 26-of-58 (44.8 percent) from the floor, 11-of-23 (47.8 percent) beyond the arc and 12-of-13 (92.3 percent) on free throws.

The Volunteers, though, forced nine turnovers and committed a season-low four, their fewest ever in NCAA Tournament play, leading to a 10-0 tally in points off giveaways. They went nearly 28 consecutive minutes—from 10:19 of the first half to 2:45 of the second half—without committing a turnover.

In addition, Tennessee finished with an 18-5 ledger in fast-break points, a 15-4 edge in bench points and a 12-7 advantage in offensive rebounds, as it led for 29:02 and trailed for just 7:18.

The Volunteers will take the Little Caesars Arena court Sunday at 2:20 p.m., live on CBS, against third-ranked, top-seeded Purdue.

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 806 victories in his career, passing Rick Byrd and moving into a tie with Eddie Sutton for No. 13 on the all-time wins list (min. 10 years at a Division I school).
• Friday marked the second all-time meeting between Tennessee and Creighton, with the prior one in 1937, as the Volunteers improved to 2-0 in series history.
• Barnes has now coached in 57 NCAA Tournament games, tying Rick Pitino for fifth-most among active Division I head coaches.
• This is the fifth time Tennessee has won at least 27 games in a single season, including the third in the last six seasons under Barnes.
• Tennessee’s 27 victories this year match the fourth-highest single-season win total in program history, tying the mark in 2021-22, as this is the second time in three years it has hit that mark.
• The Volunteers are now 28-26 all-time in their 26 NCAA Tournament trips, including 3-5 in their third games, 2-8 in the Round of 16, 9-5 under Barnes, 8-3 as a No. 2 seed, 1-2 versus No. 3 seeds, 12-20 against single-digit seeds, 23-11 versus lower seeds, 24-24 in regulation and 1-0 in Michigan.
• Barnes’ 9-5 record at Tennessee moved him past Bruce Pearl (8-6) for the most NCAA Tournament wins in program history.
• This is the second Elite Eight berth in Tennessee history, joining the 2009-10 season when the sixth-seeded Volunteers beat second-seeded Ohio State, 76-73, in St. Louis, Mo., on March 26, 2010.
• The Volunteers now own a 79-24 (.767) record in 103 games as an AP top-10 team under Barnes’ direction.
• With Friday’s win, Tennessee is now 22-21 (.512) against AP top-15 teams in Barnes’ tenure, including 15-4 (.789) over the last 19 such outings, dating back to Feb. 22, 2021, against Arizona.
• The Volunteers’ prior low for turnovers in an NCAA Tournament game was six, recorded on both March 23, 2023, versus Florida Atlantic and March 16, 2007, against Long Beach State.
• Prior to Friday, Tennessee’s lowest turnover tally this season was six, notched on both Jan. 30, 2024, against South Carolina and Nov. 22, 2023, versus Kansas in Honolulu.
• Tennessee played four of the other seven Elite Eight teams during the regular season, posting a 4-1 record across five outings.
• This is the fourth time the Volunteers have ever beat four AP top-15 teams in a single season, joining 2021-22 (six), 2022-23 (five) and 1976-77 (four).
• The Volunteers moved to 7-1 in their last eight games versus AP top-25 foes, dating back to Dec. 9, 2023, against Illinois.
• Tennessee’s seven AP top-25 victories this season match the 2021-22 season for the most in a campaign in program history.
• Friday marked the first time this season Tennessee allowed zero points off turnovers, as its prior low in 2023-24 was two against Tarleton State on Dec. 21, 2023.
• After going 3-of-25 from 3-point range Saturday in the Round of 32 win over Texas, the Volunteers opened 3-of-6 through the first seven minutes Friday.
• The two sides combined for just six first-half turnovers, with Tennessee committing just two and forcing four.
• As announced before tipoff, fifth-year guard Santiago Vescovi missed Friday’s contest—he entered with a 52-game start streak—due to the flu.
• Friday marked just the fourth time Vescovi, Tennessee’s career starts leader with 144, has missed a game in his five-year career.
• In addition, Friday marked the first time this season a Tennessee starter missed a game and only the second time an individual in the Volunteers’ top eight (in terms of minutes average) missed a game in 2023-24.
• Freshman guard Cameron Carr hit a corner 3-pointer with 1:39 left in the first half, his fifth make from long range this season, his third in the last four-plus months and first since making two Feb. 17 against Vanderbilt.
• Mashack’s lone prior performance with eight rebounds came on Feb. 18, 2023, at Kentucky, while his lone outing with five offensive boards was on Feb. 10, 2024, at Texas A&M.
• Zeigler’s six assists put him at 30 in his five career NCAA Tournament games, moving him past Bert Bertelkamp, now Tennessee’s radio analyst, for the program’s all-time record.
• James surpassed Wayne Chism (2006-10) for sole possession of third place on the program’s appearances list with his 143nd outing.
• With his first offensive rebound of the night, James became the 12th player to reach 200 in a Tennessee career.
• James is now one of only five individuals in program history to play 4,000 minutes, joining Allan Houston (4,606 from 1989-93), Santiago Vescovi (4,419 from 2019-24), C.J. Watson (4,058 from 2002-06) and Tony White (4,034 from 1983-87).
• In addition, James matched Jon Higgins (1999-2003) for the fifth-most starts in Tennessee history with 122.
• The only other SEC player to register at least 26 points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block in an NCAA Tournament affair was Arkansas’ Corliss Williamson on April 2, 1994, against Arizona in the Final Four.
• Knecht also became just the 12th player ever to record that line in an NCAA Tournament contest, including the second in the last 19 years (2005-06 to 2023-24), joining Xavier’s Jordan Crawford, who did so on March 19, 2010, against Minnesota in the Round of 64.
• Now possessing 743 points in 2023-24, Knecht moved past Allan Houston (1991-92) and Dale Ellis (1982-83) to rise from co-third to second place on Tennessee’s single-season scoring leaderboard.
• The only Volunteer with more points in a campaign than Knecht is Allan Houston, who amassed 806 in 1990-91.
• Knecht has now scored double-digit points in both halves of a game on 14 occasions during the 2023-24 season.
• Friday marked the 20th 25-point outing of Knecht’s three-year Division I career, including his 12th this season at Tennessee.
• Knecht now owns 37 20-point performances as a Division I player, 18 of which come this year as a Volunteer.
• Knecht’s 26 points Friday tied for the fourth-most ever by a Tennessee player in an NCAA Tournament affair and marked the seventh time a Volunteer recorded at least that many in such a contest.

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