Vols Fall to Top-Seeded Purdue, 72-66, in Elite Eight
Courtesy / UT Athletics

Vols Fall to Top-Seeded Purdue, 72-66, in Elite Eight

DETROIT – The University of Tennessee men’s basketball team took an 11-point first-half lead in Sunday afternoon’s Elite Eight matchup with third-ranked, top-seeded Purdue, but came up on the short end of a hard-fought 72-66 decision.

Fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht poured in 37 points, the most ever by a Volunteer in the NCAA Tournament, for sixth-ranked, second-seeded Tennessee (27-9, 14-4 SEC) at Little Caesars Arena, nearly helping his team rally back from an eight-point deficit with under 11 minutes to go.

The Volunteers hit five shots in a row early in the first half to build a 17-12 edge with 14:09 on the clock, at which time Knecht already had 10 points. They then went scoreless for 5:35, as Purdue (33-4, 17-3 B1G) tallied seven straight points to go in front by two, but Tennessee countered with back-to-back 3-pointers, taking a 23-19 with 7:52 left before the break.

The consecutive long-range shots sparked a 15-2 surge in just 3:23, as Tennessee claimed a game-best 11-point advantage, 32-21, with 5:11 on the clock. At that time, Tennessee was 7-of-10 from deep—including a perfect 4-of-4 clip for Knecht, who then owned 16 points and capped the run with back-to-back triples—while the Boilermakers 1-of-7.

Purdue answered back with 13 straight points in 3:41, including making four consecutive field goals, to go regain a two-point lead, 34-32, with 1:24 to go in the first half. Their margin remained two, 36-34, at the intermission despite Tennessee holding Purdue to a 1-of-8 (12.5 percent) mark from deep.

The Boilermakers scored the first basket of the second half, but Knecht then tallied five points in 24 seconds to put Tennessee ahead by one, 39-38, with 19:01 to go. However, the Volunteers then went 5:46 without a field goals, as Purdue notched a 9-2 run to go up 47-41 with 13:54 remaining. Tennessee answered shortly thereafter with five points in 19 seconds to get the margin down to one, 47-46, with 12:57 to play.

Purdue tallied the next seven points in 101 seconds to grab its biggest lead, 54-46, with 10:54 remaining, but Tennessee scored the next seven in just 63 ticks, cutting the deficit back to one, 54-54, with 9:01 to go. After a Purdue basket, Knecht drilled a 3-pointer to level the score at 56 with 7:06 on the clock, making it a 10-2 push in 2:58.

With under five minutes left, the scoreboard showed a 58-58 deadlock, but Purdue used a 10-2 burst in 3:14 to again go ahead by eight, 68-60, with 1:46 to go, as it held Tennessee, which had multiple chances to take the lead, without a field goal for 4:13.

The Volunteers twice got the deficit down to five, but pulled no closer, as the Boilermakers held on for the six-point result.

Knecht, who became the first Volunteer ever to record six 35-point showings in a single season, shot 14-of-31 from the field, including 6-of-12 from 3-point range, in his final collegiate game. His showing marked the sixth-highest single-game point total ever by an SEC player in the NCAA Tournament contest and marked just the second time in the last two decades an individual from the league had 37-plus.

No other Volunteer scored in double figures, although junior guard Zakai Zeigler totaled nine points and a game-best eight assists, while fifth-year guard Josiah-Jordan James scored eight points on 3-of-4 shooting, including hitting both his 3-pointers.

Purdue senior center Zach Edey led all scorers with a career-high 40 points, the most by a Tennessee opponent in over 15 years. He shot 13-of-21 from the floor and 14-of-22 at the line—his free-throw attempts mark also set a career high, while his makes put him one off his best tally—as well as pulled down a game-best 16 rebounds.

Sophomore guard Fletcher Loyer tallied 14 points for the Boilermakers, although Tennessee held him to 4-of-12 shooting, including a 1-of-5 clip from deep.

Tennessee finished 11-of-26 (42.3 percent) from 3-point range and limited Purdue to a 3-of-15 (20.0 percent) ledger, as well as totaled a 20-7 cushion in points off turnovers. However, the Boilermakers had a 40-24 advantage in paint points.

Both teams shot 63.6 percent at the line, but Tennessee went 7-of-11 and committed 25 fouls leading to a 21-of-33 ledger for Purdue.

The Volunteers conclude arguably the finest campaign in program history with 27 victories, tied for their fourth-most ever, along with an SEC regular season title and their second Elite Eight appearance.

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.  

• Saturday marked the seventh all-time matchup between Tennessee and Purdue, each at a different location, with the Volunteers now 2-5.
• Purdue (0-2) is now the sixth team Tennessee has played multiple times in the NCAA Tournament—it is the first it has faced twice in head coach Rick Barnes‘ tenure—alongside Iowa (2-0), Louisiana (3-0), Louisville (0-2), Michigan (0-3) and Virginia (1-2).
• This is the fourth time Tennessee has won at least 28 games in a single season, including the second in the last six seasons under Barnes.
• Tennessee’s 28 victories this year match the third-highest single-season win total in program history, tying the mark in 2009-10, with that the other campaign in which the Volunteers reached the Elite Eight.
• The Volunteers are now 28-27 all-time in their 26 NCAA Tournament trips, including 0-3 in their third games, 0-2 in the Elite Eight, 9-6 under Barnes, 8-4 as a No. 2 seed, 0-6 versus No. 1 seeds, 12-21 against single-digit seeds, 4-12 versus higher seeds, 24-25 in regulation and 1-1 in Michigan.
• The Volunteers now own a 79-25 (.760) record in 104 games as an AP top-10 team under Barnes’ direction.
• Tennessee is now 22-22 (.500) against AP top-15 teams in Barnes’ tenure, including 15-5 (.750) over the last 20 such outings, dating back to Dec. 22, 2021, against Arizona.
• Edey posted a double-double in the first half alone, notching 19 points and 10 rebounds before the intermission.
• Edey became the first player to register 40 points against the Volunteers since Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks scored 54 on Jan. 13, 2009, in Knoxville, Tenn.
• In addition to a career-high point total—his prior best was 38 on Jan. 29, 2023, versus Michigan State—Edey also notched a career-best mark in free throw attempts with 22, surpassing the ledger of 20 he previously recorded twice.
• In the first half, Purdue registered a 7-4 edge on the glass, but Tennessee amassed a 9-4 advantage in second-chance points.
• In the full game, the Boilermakers had a 13-6 advantage in offensive rebounding, but the Volunteers’ totaled a slim 9-8 margin in second-chance points, despite scoring none in the second half.
• Sunday marked the seventh time this season—two came against Purdue—Tennessee played a game in which both teams led for double-digit minutes.
• The Volunteers compiled a 10-0 margin in bench points, their second straight game with a double-digit advantage in that category.
• James passed Jon Higgins (1999-2003) for sole possession of fifth place on Tennessee’s career starts list, now owning 123.
• James’ eight points upped his career scoring total to 1,270, moving him past Brandon Crump (2001-05) and into the top 30 in program history.
• With eight assists Sunday, junior guard Zakai Zeigler pushed his season total to 218, eclipsing Jordan Bone (2018-19) for third in a single campaign in Tennessee history.
• With his first offensive rebound of the day, junior forward Jonas Aidoo became the fourth Volunteer—fifth occurrence—to log 100 in a single campaign, joining Jarnell Stokes (155 in 2013-14 and 138 in 2012-13), Jeronne Maymon (123 in 2013-14) and Brian Williams (101 in 2010-11).
• Knecht’s 577 field-goal attempts this year set a new program single-season record, surpassing the mark of 550 set by Allan Houston in 1990-91.
• The 37 points for Knecht broke Tennessee’s NCAA Tournament single-game scoring record held by Ernie Grunfeld, who tallied 36 on March 13, 1976, with that the lone prior 30-point showing by a Volunteer in the NCAA Tournament.
• Knecht’s performance marked just the 16th 35-point performance by an SEC player ever in the NCAA Tournament.
• Only five other SEC players have recorded 37-plus points in NCAA Tournament action: Kentucky’s Dan Issel (44 on March 12, 1970, in the Round of 16 against Notre Dame), Kentucky’s Jack Givens (41 on March 27, 1978, in the title game against Duke), Kentucky’s Tayshaun Prince (41 on March 16, 2002, in the Round of 32 against Tulsa), Kentucky’s De’Aaron Fox (39 on March 24, 2017, in the Round of 16 against UCLA) and Alabama’s Antonio McDyess (39 on March 16, 1995, in an overtime Round of 64 game against Penn).
• The 37 points by Knecht marked the second-most ever by a non-Kentucky SEC player in the NCAA Tournament, including the top tally in a regulation affair.
• Knecht became the second Volunteer with multiple 25-point games in NCAA Tournament play, doing so in back-to-game games, alongside Ernie Grunfeld, who had 36 on March 13, 1976, versus VMI and 26 on March 13, 1977, against Syracuse.
• In just four NCAA Tournament games at Tennessee, Knecht amassed 104 points, becoming just the fifth Volunteer to reach triple-digit points in a career in the NCAA Tournament, alongside Wayne Chism (136 in 11), Chris Lofton (130 in eight), Dale Ellis (116 in eight) and JaJuan Smith (110 in eight).
• With his sixth 35-point performance of the year, Knecht broke a tie with Ernie Grunfeld (1975-76) for the most in a single season in Tennessee history.
• Knecht became just the fourth Volunteer—fifth occurrence—with eight 30-point outings in a single season, joining Bernard King (10 in 1974-75 and nine in 1976-77), Tony White (nine in 1986-87) and Allan Houston (eight in 1989-90).
• Knecht recorded 20-plus points 28 times in his three-year Division I career, with half of them in his lone campaign at Tennessee.
• Saturday marked the 21st time Knecht reached 25-plus points as a Division I player, including the 12th in 2023-24.
• Knecht amassed 11 total 30-point performances in his three years at the Division I level, with all but three as a Volunteer.
• Sunday marked the 15th game in his lone season as a Volunteer in which scored double-digit points in both halves.

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