Tennessee – 68
Alabama – 59
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The number one ranked team was in town so you know Rocky Top was going to be fired up. Throw in the fact that the visiting team is Alabama and add a checkerboarded Thompson-Boling Arena and you’ve got all the makings of a classic. However, if The Vols were going to win this one they were going to have to do so without veteran leader, Josiah-Jordan James, and talented freshman, Julian Philips.
— VolShop (@UTVolShop) February 16, 2023
The first three baskets in the game were all three-pointers as both teams were battling hard and it looked like it was going to be another war for The Vols. Tennessee was making every little thing tough on the number one overall Crimson Tide. They were playing physical and even making inbounding close to impossible for Bama. The game was physical, the players were chirping, the crowd was loud, and it was, in fact, a war at The Summit in Knoxville.
At the halfway point of the first half, Tennessee was up 17-14 on the #1 Tide, as they had already forced 7 Alabama turnovers. Even without their two starters, Tennessee was going blow-for-blow with Bama partially due to the contribution of Jonas Aidoo who was now starting due to the absences. Tennessee was going to have to sustain this level of play for the rest of the game and needed as many plays like the one below from Vescovi and Nkamhoua as they could get.
Olivier Nkamhoua really caught it at the SUMMITT 😤
📺: ESPN2 pic.twitter.com/R4fIsPeTL1
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 16, 2023
With 2:00 to go in the first half, Tennessee led 28-24 looking to take a lead into the locker room over the number one team in America. They were not able to do so as the game would go to the break tied at 29 all. This was despite The Vols shooting just 29% from the field. The defense was working for Tennessee, but the offense was struggling. Tennessee Head Coach Rick Barnes said as much in a halftime interview, as he mentioned that his team had a lot of missed opportunities on open looks, but he was proud of their effort and happy with the defense. If Tennessee could start clicking on offense they would have a great chance to win the game, but if not, Alabama was going to find a way to remain undefeated in SEC play.
They started off on the right foot, hitting their first two shots of the half, but shortly after went cold. The Vols needed someone like Tyreke Key to heat up and fast. After two great games from Key, he was just 1-8 with 16 minutes to play. Vescovi hit two in a row and started to get hot. Tennessee was doing just enough to hold off The Tide, but would that be sustainable? With 14 minutes to play, Alabama had tied the game, but a 7-0 run for The Vols, after another three from Vescovi, vaulted Tennessee into a 47-40 lead with 11:22 to play in an absolute fist fight in Knoxville.
With 3:30 to go, Alabama had cut the lead to 58-54. It was going to take all the poise and determination The Vols had to win it down the stretch. Aidoo continued to impact the game with a put back on the offensive glass and a block on the other end. With 2:15 to play, Zeigler with a nice kiss of the glass extended Tennessee’s lead to eight. Alabama was not going to go away quietly however, and hit a huge three to keep them within realistic scoring distance with time becoming a factor. With less than a minute to go, The Tide began to foul. Vescovi converted his two to keep it at eight and after two Alabama free throws Tennessee was going to have to continue to make them with 19 seconds to play. Vescovi hit both and this Vols team, without two starters, after two heartbreaking, buzzer-beater losses, bounced back in a huge way holding Alabama under 60 points winning 68-59. Dixieland Delight rained down in Thompson-Boling Arena on a joyous checkerboarded fan base.
Santiago Vescovi and Brandon Miller tied for the scoring title in the game, with both adding 15 to their team’s total. Jonas Aidoo and Noah Clowney tied for the lead in rebounds as well with 11 each. Zakai Zeigler breaks the trend, winning the assists battle with eight to Jaden Bradley’s four.
This is what Tennessee Head Coach, Rick Barnes, had to say post-game via Ben McKee of Govols247 and Vol_Hoops on Twitter:
“Great effort — all the way around for 40 minutes.”
🎥 Rick postgame pic.twitter.com/v8AqaK6pT4
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) February 16, 2023
#Vols coach Rick Barnes: I can’t tell you how proud I am of our guy’s defensive effort for 40 minutes. These guys have never become disconnected and our coaching staff did a terrific job. Just incredible defensive intensity and effort.
— Ben McKee (@benmckee14) February 16, 2023
Rick Barnes on how this team sticks together when times get tough: It’s about the quality of player we recruit and the foundation of this program. It speaks a lot about each guy’s character.
— Ben McKee (@benmckee14) February 16, 2023
Tennessee’s next game is against Kentucky in Lexington at 12:00 on Saturday.