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No. 5 Tennessee seeks vengeance, milestone vs. Texas A&M

Jan 20, 2024; Knoxville, Tennessee, USA; Tennessee Volunteers guard Dalton Knecht (3) reacts after dunking the ball against the Alabama Crimson Tide during the second half at Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center. Mandatory Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

No. 5 Tennessee aims to avenge its loss to Texas A&M earlier this month and present Rick Barnes his 800th career coaching victory on Saturday night when the Southeastern Conference rivals meet in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Volunteers (20-6, 10-3 SEC) have won five of six games in February to reside one game behind Alabama for the top spot in the conference. The lone blemish in that stretch was an 85-69 setback to the Aggies (15-11, 6-7) on Feb. 10 in College Station, Texas.

Tennessee picked itself up and recorded blowout victories against Arkansas on Feb. 14 and versus Vanderbilt three days later before escaping with a 72-67 win at Missouri on Tuesday. The five-point margin of victory was the slimmest this season for Barnes’ charges.

The Volunteers overcame a seven-point deficit early in the second half due in large part to Dalton Knecht. The transfer from Northern Colorado scored 15 of his 17 points in the second half and finished with 10 rebounds for his first double-double in a Tennessee uniform.

Knecht, who averages a team-best 20.0 points per game this season, collected 22 points and seven rebounds in the previous encounter versus Texas A&M.

Knecht’s second-half surge notwithstanding, Barnes also benefited by electing to keep Tobe Awaka and reigning SEC Player of the Week Jonas Aidoo on the floor at the same time. Awaka is 6-foot-8 and 250 pounds while Aidoo stands 6-11 and 241.

“I knew coming out of the locker room I was going to go with a big lineup, which is the most (of what) we have done all year,” Barnes said.

It paid dividends as Awaka scored a career-high 18 points to go along with 10 rebounds for his second collegiate double-double. Aidoo added 14 points, four boards and four blocks.

“I love playing with Jonas,” Awaka said, per the Knoxville News-Sentinel. “He is a little bit more finesse, lengthy. I’m more of a bruiser. I think that we really complement each other well. He can really stretch the floor, play on the outside. I can play toward the inside. We can play off each other pretty well.”

While Tennessee has won three straight following its encounter with Texas A&M, the Aggies have dropped three in a row.

Jace Carter connected on three 3-pointers and finished with a season high-tying 14 points in Texas A&M’s 78-71 setback to Arkansas on Tuesday. While Carter made 4 of 7 shots from the floor and 3 of 6 from 3-point range, the rest of his teammates combined to go 16-for-53 and 3-for-14, respectively.

“We just have to be better,” Carter said. “We struggled to see the ball go in at the start of the second half and we have to get past that and do other things to help us win. We have to step up, we were all raised that way. We’ve faced a lot of controversy in our lives, a lot of back-against-the-wall moments and we have to move forward. We’re not looking for any excuses, we just have to go grab it.”

Tyrece Radford made just 5 of 16 shots from the floor to finish with 12 points. He had a game-high 27 points in the first tango with Tennessee.

–Field Level Media

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