Courtesy / UT Athletics


Game Recap: Men’s Basketball | March 09, 2024

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee men’s basketball team fell to No. 15/13 Kentucky, 85-81, Saturday evening at a sold-out, over-capacity Food City Center in the final game of the 2023-24 regular season.

Fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht, in his final home outing, registered a career-best 40 points, the 16th such showing in program history, for fourth-ranked Tennessee (24-7, 14-4 SEC).

The Volunteers started just 3-of-18 from the field through nearly 11 minutes and, late in that stretch, Kentucky (23-8, 13-5 SEC) hit back-to-back-to-back 3-pointers in just 70 seconds to go ahead, 18-12, with 10:03 on the first-half timer.

The Wildcats extended their edge to 11 with 2:45 left in the frame, but after Tennessee started 5-of-27 from the floor, it got a personal 7-0 run in 1:10 from Knecht, including two 3-pointers, to get the deficit down to four, 31-27, with 1:15 remaining.

The two sides exchanged baskets in the last 16 seconds and Kentucky took a 33-29 advantage into the locker room despite 19 points from Knecht. Tennessee shot just 8-of-32 (25.0 percent) through 20 minutes, including 4-of-13 (30.8 percent) from deep, while the visitors went 13-of-34 (38.2 percent) overall and 6-of-15 (40.0 percent) on 3-pointers. The home team, though, had a 9-of-13 (69.2 percent) clip at the line, while Kentucky went 1-of-2 (50.0 percent).

Tennessee forced a turnover and hit a 3-pointer to open the second half, trimming the margin to one, but Kentucky responded soon thereafter. The Wildcats went on another 9-0 run, this one in just 1:00, to take a 12-point edge, 51-39, with 14:57 to play.

After a personal 7-3 run by Knecht, Kentucky hit back-to-back 3-pointers in 33 seconds to go up by a game-high 14 points, 60-46, with 11:53 to go. The lead held steady at 14 with under nine minutes to go, but Tennessee scored nine straight points in 64 seconds to get it down to five, 68-63, with 7:32 on the clock.

The two teams split the next four points and then the Wildcats went on a 10-4 surge to go back up by 11, 80-69, with just 2:35 left. Kentucky maintained that advantage into the final minute, but junior guard Zakai Zeigler scored six points in three seconds—a 3-pointer, a steal and a three-point play—to make it an 84-79 tally with 47.1 ticks to go.

Tennessee forced another turnover and then got two free throws from fifth-year guard Josiah-Jordan James with 31.4 seconds on the clock, making it an 8-0 run in 19 seconds to cut the deficit to three, 84-81. The Volunteers then forced a 10-second violation, but could not convert at the offensive end. Kentucky freshman guard Rob Dillingham hit a free throw with 5.9 ticks left to ice it, with that shot finishing the scoring.

Knecht’s career-best point total tied for the 14th-most in a game in program history and marked the first 40-point showing since Grant Williams had 43 Jan. 23, 2019, with those the lone two instances by a Volunteer in the last 34 years (1990-2024). The last Tennessee player to score 40-plus in Knoxville was Allan Houston, who had on Feb. 2, 1990.

The Thornton, Colo., native made 14 of his first 27 field-goal attempts and finished 14-of-29 to tie for the most makes by an SEC player this season and tie his career high. He also tied his career best in made 3-pointers with a 6-of-15 ledger.

Additionally, Knecht became the second player in Tennessee history, joining Ernie Grunfeld in 1975-76, to register 35-plus points five times in a single campaign. Four of Knecht’s such outings have come in the last 16 contests.

Zeigler totaled 17 points and a game-best nine assists, while shooting 4-of-11 from 3-point range. Junior forward Jonas Aidoo had 11 points, eight rebounds and a career-high-tying five blocks, the latter mark pacing all players. James added eight points and a game-best 10 rebounds in his 81st and game at Food City Center, where he went 68-13 (.840).

Freshman guard Reed Sheppard co-led the Wildcats with 27 points, including 22 in a second half during which he made his first six 3-point attempts. Overall, he finished 7-of-10 from long range, grabbed six rebounds and dished out a team-high four assists.

Fifth-year guard Antonio Reeves also scored 27 points for Kentucky, shooting 8-of-16 overall, 3-of-5 on 3-pointers and 8-of-9 at the line. Freshman guard Justin Edwards had 16 points and went 4-of-7 from deep, while Dillingham tallied 11 points in the decision.

Both teams hit at least a dozen 3-pointers, but Kentucky shot a blistering 15-of-29 (51.7 percent) beyond the arc, including 9-of-14 (64.3 percent) in the second half, while Tennessee was 12-of-36 (33.3 percent). The Volunteers had a 21-10 edge in points off turnovers—they forced 16 and had just seven—along with a 30-18 margin in paint points and a 24-12 tally in fast-break points, but the Wildcats notched a 38-5 ledger in bench points and shot 16-of-18 (88.9 percent) at the line.

With the regular season complete, Tennessee now heads to Nashville, Tenn., where it begins play Friday at 1 p.m. ET as the top seed in the SEC Tournament against a to-be-determined opponent in a quarterfinal matchup, live on ESPN from Bridgestone Arena.

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 head coach Rick Barnes fell to 13-12 all-time versus Kentucky head coach John Calipari, including an 11-10 ledger in the regular season.
• After going 9-35 (.205) in the 22 seasons (1993-2015) before his arrival, Tennessee is now 11-10 (.524) versus Kentucky in Barnes’ tenure.
• The Volunteers dropped to 10-6 (.625) against ranked Kentucky teams since 2015-16 under Barnes, still twice as many such victories as any other team, as Kansas is second with five.
• Tennessee fell to 7-5 (.583) versus AP top-15 Kentucky teams under Barnes, as well as 7-3 (.700) in AP top-25 matchups and 4-2 (.667) in AP top-15 showdowns.
• The Volunteers are the first team since Auburn in 2018-19 to play Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina—the three winningest programs in college basketball history—in the same season, as well as the first since UCLA in 2015-16 to play all three in the regular season and the first since Georgia Tech in 1999-2000 to play all three away from home in the regular season.
• In addition, Tennessee is the second team in the last 24 years (2000-24) to play Kansas, Kentucky and North Carolina a total of four times in the regular season while facing each at least once, joining Florida in 2014-15.
• The Volunteers finished the regular season with 24 victories, tied with 1999-2000 for the third-most in program history, while trailing only the 28 in 2007-08 and the 27 in 2018-19.
• Tennessee logged 14-plus SEC wins for the eighth time ever, with the 1976-77 (16), 2018-19 (15) and 1966-67 (15) the only campaigns in which it tallied more.
• In addition, this is just the second time in program history the Volunteers have even faced four straight AP top-25 opponents in a single season, joining a 1-3 stretch from Jan. 20-31, 2004, while this is the first time they have played four consecutive AP top-20 foes.
• The Volunteers’ SEC record of 12 straight home wins over AP top-25 teams came to an end after running from Jan. 30, 2021, versus Kansas to Feb. 28, 2023, against Auburn.
 • Tennessee moved to 27-21 (.563) in AP top-25 matchups under Barnes, including 21-14 (.600) with both teams in the top 20 and 12-8 (.600) with each in the top 15.
• In its past 18 outings versus AP top-15 teams, dating back to Dec. 22, 2021, against Arizona, Tennessee is now 14-4 (.778).
• Over its last 20 games against AP top-20 foes, going back to Jan. 22, 2022, versus LSU, Tennessee now possesses a 15-5 (.750) record.
• In the last four seasons (2020-24), Tennessee is now 21-15 (.583) against AP top-25 foes, including 19-10 (.655) versus top-20 opponents and 16-6 (.727) against top-15 teams, with all three win totals still leading all SEC programs.
• Tennessee’s six-game winning streak over AP top-25 teams came to end, matching the program record that set from March 5, 1966, to Jan. 22, 1968, with both bookend wins versus Kentucky.
• The Volunteers are now 76-23 (.768) as an AP top-10 team under Barnes’ direction, including 35-10 (.778) while in the top five.
• Barnes finished 26-8 (.765) in the second leg of regular season rematches over the last seven years (2017-24), including notching a 4-1 mark this year.
• Prior to tip-off, Tennessee recognized four senior student-athletes (forward Colin Coyne, guard Dalton Knecht, guard Josiah-Jordan James and guard Santiago Vescovi), as well as two student athletic trainers (Macy Monday and Jacob Powell) and four student managers (Scott Daughtry, Robby Geron, Bryson Hartsell and Blake Sexton).
• Saturday marked the eighth sellout of the season at Food City Center, good for a venue record—the prior mark was five—in a single campaign.
• Of Tennessee’s four sellouts this year, four had over-capacity crowds, including each of the last three featuring over 22,000 fans.
• The Volunteers fell to 32-5 (.865) over the last three seasons (2021-24) when hitting double-digit 3-pointers, including 22-2 (.917) at home.
• Aidoo blocked five shots in the first 15 minutes of the contest, already tying his ledger for a full game, recorded twice previously, on both Jan. 13, 2024, at Georgia and on Nov. 30, 2022, against McNeese State.
• James grabbed double-digit rebounds for the 14th time in his career, fourth time this season and second straight contest, finishing two points shy of a double-double
• Zeigler ended one assist shy of a double-double for the third time, while he was also one point shy in another outing.
• Two players in Saturday’s game, Knecht and Reeves (18), are the only two individuals in at least the last 19 seasons to score 13-plus points in 17 consecutive SEC games in a single campaign.
• Knecht finished his lone season as a Volunteer with a conference-best 25.5 scoring average in SEC play, the top mark by any player in the league since South Carolina’s Devan Downey put up 26.2 in 2009-10.
• Besides Knecht and Downey, only one other player has averaged at least 24.0 points per game in SEC play over the last 22 seasons (2002-24), as Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks tallied 24.9 per contest in 2008-09.
• With one day left in the regular season, Knecht’s 25.5 scoring average in SEC play in the best mark in league action of any individual in the country.
• Knecht’s 40-point performance broke the career high of 39 he compiled twice this season, on both Jan. 16 against Florida and Feb. 28 versus Auburn.
• Just three other SEC players—two in regulation—in the last four seasons (2020-24) have recorded a 40-point performance: Arkansas’ Khalif Battle (42 on Feb. 24, 2024, versus Missouri), Texas A&M’s Wade Taylor IV (41 on Jan. 16, 2024, at Arkansas) and Alabama’s Brandon Miller (41 on Feb. 22, 2023, in an overtime affair at South Carolina).
• The last Volunteer to score 40-plus points was Grant Williams, who had 43 on Jan. 23, 2019, at Vanderbilt, while the last to do so at home was Allan Houston, who posted 43 on Feb. 10, 1990, against LSU.
• Williams and Knecht are the only Volunteers to score 40-plus points in a game over the past 34 seasons (1990-2024), since Houston’s performance.
• Knecht is the third Volunteer to drop 40-plus points at Food City Center, alongside Allan Houston (43 on Feb. 10, 1990, versus LSU) and Dyron Nix (40 on Nov. 25, 1988, versus Tennessee Tech)
• Over the last 34 seasons (1990-2024), Knecht owns three of the four highest single-game point totals by a Volunteer.
• After never eclipsing 34 points in his two seasons at Northern Colorado, Knecht has scored 35-plus points five times in 2023-24, including in four of the past 16 games.
• The only other Tennessee player ever to record five 35-point games in a single season is Ernie Grunfeld, who did so in 1975-76.
• Knecht’s five 35-point performances, in only 31 appearances, put him in sole possession of fourth place in program history for a full career, trailing only the 11 by Bernard King (1974-77), the eight by Ernie Grunfeld (1973-77) and the six by Allan Houston (1989-93).
• Knecht is the first player in Tennessee history with four 35-point performances in SEC play in a single season, while only Ernie Grunfeld, Allan Houston and Bernard King even have four such outings in a full career.
• Knecht now owns 10 30-point performances in his three-year Division I career, with seven in his lone season as a Volunteer and six in the past 16 affairs.
• Knecht’s seven 30-point games this season match Dale Ellis (1982-83), Ernie Grunfeld (1975-76) and Bernard King (1975-76) for the fifth-most in program history, with only King (twice), Allan Houston and Tony White ever notching more.
• The seven 30-point outings by Knecht, in just 31 contests at Tennessee, already put him in sole possession of eighth place on the school’s career leaderboard.
• Of Knecht’s 19 25-point showings at the Division I level, 11 are in 2023-24, with 10 of them in the past 17 games.
• Knecht now possesses 35 20-point outings in as a Division I player, including 16 in his lone season at Tennessee and 13 in the last 17 contests.
• The only other SEC players with 14 made field goals in a game this season are South Carolina’s Collin Murray-Boyles on Feb. 10 against Vanderbilt and Rob Dillingham on Feb. 3 versus Tennessee.
• Knecht’s prior 14 field-goal performance came on Jan. 21, 2023, during his tenure at Northern Colorado when he went 14-of-21 against Idaho.
• The six 3-pointers for Knecht matched the career highs he set on Feb. 10, 2024, at Texas A&M and Jan. 14, 2023, at Portland State while at Northern Colorado.
• With 662 points this season, Knecht already ranks No. 11 on the program’s single-season leaderboard, including third in the past 30 years (1994-2024).
• Knecht has now scored double-digit points in a half on 12 occasions, including in 10 of the past 16 contests.
• Knecht now owns 16 single-half performances of 15-plus points, with seven occurrences of 20-plus points.

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