Vols Fall To North Carolina, 100-92

  • Thursday, November 30, 2023

The University of Tennessee men's basketball team's second-half rally came up short Wednesday night at No. 17/16 in a 100-92 decision in the inaugural ACC/SEC Challenge.

Fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht scored a career-high 37 points—the co-most ever by a non-conference visitor at the Dean E. Smith Center and the top total by any player against the Tar Heels since December 2016—to help the Volunteers slice a 24-point deficit all the way down to six. No. 10/11 Tennessee (4-3) got no closer, though, in its third consecutive top-20 showdown.

Despite the Volunteers making five shots in a row early in the contest, North Carolina (6-1) built a 28-12 lead at the 11:17 mark behind a 13-0 surge in just 2:12. The Tar Heels upped their lead as high as 23 multiple times in the opening frame and, despite the visitors thrice trimming it to 17, took a 22-point lead, 61-39, into the locker room.

Tennessee went 16-of-30 (53.3 percent) from the field and a perfect 6-of-6 at the line through 20 minutes, but logged just a 1-of-12 (8.3 percent) mark on 3-pointers. Meanwhile, North Carolina, shot 19-of-33 (57.6 percent) overall, an unblemished 16-of-16 from the stripe and a 7-of-16 (43.8 percent) beyond the arc.

The Tar Heels twice upped their advantage as high as 24 in the opening minutes of the second half, but the Volunteers used an 11-2 run—including nine points from Knecht—to cut it to 15, 78-63, with 12:25 to go.

Tennessee continued to chip away and closed within seven, 84-77, on a 3-pointer by fifth-year guard Josiah-Jordan James with 7:27 to play, a shot that capped a 14-3 burst. In all, Tennessee scored 25 of 32 points in a span of under eight minutes.

North Carolina extended its cushion back to 15, after which the Volunteers scored nine straight points in 3:28 to get it down to six, 92-86, with 1:39 left. Knecht, though, departed the game with a left ankle injury at that point and received a standing ovation from the crowd of 20,756. North Carolina connected on all eight of its free-throw attempts in the closing 91 seconds to seal the victory.

Knecht's 37 points came on 13-of-17 shooting, as he became the first Division I player with 37-plus points on fewer than 18 shots since March 4, 2023. He went 4-of-8 on 3-pointers and 7-of-8 from the stripe, as well as posted a team-leading six rebounds, three assists, a co-team-high two blocks and one steal. The 37 points—which he would have had a chance to add to with free throws if he did not exit with an injury—matched La Salle's Lionel Simmons visiting scoring record at the Dean E. Smith Center, set on Jan. 9, 1988. It also marked the second-highest point total by a North Carolina opponent in any game in at least the last 14 seasons (2010-24).

James totaled a season-best 20 points on a stellar 8-of-11 clip, as well as blocked two shots. His total gave the Volunteers multiple 20-point scorers for the first time since the 2021-22 season opener.

Junior forward Jonas Aidoo, in a return to his home state, finished with 13 points, while junior guard Jordan Gainey, who surpassed 1,000 career points with his first basket of the night, added 11 in the setback. Fellow junior guard Zakai Zeigler, in his first start of the year, notched nine points and seven assists, the latter figure the most by a Volunteer in 2023-24.

Senior guard R.J. Davis paced the Tar Heels with 27 points on 8-of-17 shooting, leading a trio of 20-point scorers. Graduate student forward/center Armando Bacot amassed 22 points and a game-best 11 rebounds, going 6-of-8 from the field and 10-of-13 at the line. Junior forward Harrison Ingram rounded out the group with 20 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Graduate student guard Cormac Ryan shot 3-of-9, but made all seven of his free throws to end up with 15 points.

Freshman guard Elliott Cadeau recorded 10 assists and zero turnovers in the win, becoming the first player with double figures in the former category against the Volunteers in a regular season game since December 2015.

Tennessee shot 19-of-33 (57.6 percent) in the second half to end the affair 35-of-63 (55.6 percent) and it also went 8-of-16 (50.0 percent) from deep in the second frame. The Volunteers also held the Tar Heels to a 9-of-28 (31.1 percent) field-goal ledger in the closing 20 minutes, but they again made 16 free throws—this time on 22 attempts—and again eclipsed 40 percent on 3-pointers with a 5-of-12 (41.7 percent) figure.

The Volunteers amassed a 44-32 edge in paint points, but North Carolina nonetheless finished with a 13-4 advance in second-chance points to go along with a 20-8 margin in fast-break points.

After four straight regular season games away from home for the first time since 2011-12, the Volunteers now return to Knoxville, Tenn., where they play Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. against George Mason, live on SEC Network+ at Food City Center.

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.

• This is the first time in program history the Volunteers have played three consecutive AP top-25 teams in non-conference play in a single season and the first time doing so against any teams since Jan. 2012.
• Wednesday marked Tennessee's third straight outing against a Preseason First Team All-American, as Bacot followed Purdue's Zach Edey and Kansas' Hunter Dickinson.
• The Volunteers are now 21-20 in AP top-25 matchups in Barnes' nine years, including 16-13 when both teams are in the AP top 20.
• Tennessee switched its starting lineup for the first time this season, as Zeigler replaced fellow junior guard Jahmai Mashack in the opening five.
• Sophomore forward Tobe Awaka, as announced before tip-off, did not play due to a right ankle injury, while redshirt freshman guard Freddie Dilione V missed his fourth straight game due to a partial tear of his left plantar fascia.
• The two sides combined to hit their first 23 shots from the line, as North Carolina made its first 16 free-throw attempts and did not miss until 15:42 remained in the game, while Tennessee connected on its first eight tries and did not miss until the clock showed 12:25.
• North Carolina became the first team to score 90-plus against Tennessee since Kentucky notched 107 on Jan. 15, 2022, on its home court.
• This is the third straight game Tennessee's opponent took at least 14 more free throws, as the Tar Heels' 38-16 margin followed a 22-8 edge for top-ranked Kanas and a 48-30 ledger for second-ranked Purdue, giving Volunteer foes 54 more attempts across the last three contests.
• With 15 points before the break and 22 after it, Knecht logged his eighth and ninth double-digit performances in a session this season, of a possible 14.
• Knecht's 15 first-half points also matched his total before the intermission Nov. 20 against Syracuse in Honolulu for the most in a frame by a Volunteer this season and then his 22 points in the second half set a new top mark.
• Knecht became the first Volunteer with a 20-point half since Tyreke Key had 21 after the break on Feb. 11, 2023, at Missouri.
• Four Tar Heels scored 10-plus points in the opening session, including Bacot and Ingram both matching Knecht with 15 apiece.
• Knecht has scored 16-plus points and paced Tennessee in scoring in six of his seven appearances as a Volunteer.
• Knecht's 37 points are the most for or against a Power Six team so far this season, as well as tied for the third-most by a DI player in any game, as he trails only Hofstra's Tyler Thomas (40 versus High Point on Nov. 22 in Estero, Fla.) and Southern Illinois' Xavier Johnson (38 versus James Madison on Nov. 21 in Cancun), while matching McNeese State's Shahada Wells (37 at Western Carolina on Nov. 18).
• Knecht became just the third visiting player in the last seven seasons to score 30-plus points at the Dean E. Smith Center, joining Syracuse's Cole Swider on Feb. 28, 2022, and NC State's Terquavion Smith on Jan. 29, 2022.
• Prior to Wednesday, only five visitors had ever scored 35-plus against the Tar Heels at the Dean E. Smith Center: La Salle's Lionel Simmons (37 on Jan. 9, 1988), Syracuse's Cole Swider (Feb. 28, 2022, in overtime), Florida State's Xavier Rathan-Mayes (35 on Jan. 24, 2015), Duke's J.J. Redick (35 on Feb. 7, 2006) and Maryland's Len Bias (35 on Feb. 20, 1986).
• The last visiting player with 30-plus points at North Carolina in non-conference play was Davidson's Jack Gibbs on Dec. 7, 2016.
• Knecht is now one of just eight players with 35-plus points against North Carolina in any game over the last 15 seasons (2009-04), including one of only two with 37-plus, joining Kentucky's Malik Monk, who had 47 on Dec. 17, 2016, in Las Vegas.
• Knecht is one of just 21 players ever to score 37-plus points against North Carolina at any location, with Monk the only other one to do so in the past 16 seasons (2008-24).
• Prior to Wednesday, only 10 individuals had ever scored 37-plus points versus the Tar Heels in non-home games.
• Knecht became the first Volunteer with 30-plus points in any game since Jaden Springer logged exactly that many on Feb. 10, 2021, against Georgia.
• The last Tennessee player with 35-plus points in a contest was Grant Williams, who had 43 on Jan. 23, 2019, at Vanderbilt.
• Knecht is the third Volunteer—fourth occurrence—with 35-plus points in a game under Barnes, including the first to do so in non-conference play, as he joins only the aforementioned performance by Williams, a 37-point showing by Williams on Jan. 9, 2018, at Vanderbilt and a 36-point display by Kevin Punter on Jan. 23, 2016, versus South Carolina.
• The only other time in Barnes' tenure a Tennessee player made 13-plus field goals was on Dec. 4, 2021, when Kennedy Chandler went 13-of-20 in a 27-point outing at Colorado.
• Knecht is the first Volunteer to make 13-plus field goals on fewer than 20 attempts since Feb. 19, 2013, when Jordan McRae went 13-of-18 in a 34-point performance at LSU.
• Knecht's prior career high was 34 points, recorded on Jan. 21, 2023, against Idaho, while his prior road high was 31 on Jan. 14, 2023, at Portland State, both during his career at Northern Colorado.
• Knecht shot 14-of-21 in the 34-point performance versus Idaho, the only time in his career he connected on more field goals than he did against the Tar Heels.
• Fresno State's Jemarl Baker (43 on 13-of-14 shooting) and Kentucky's Antonio Reeves (37 on 12-of-17 shooting) were the last Division I players with 37-plus points on 17 or fewer shots, doing so against Chicago State and at Arkansas, respectively, on March 4, 2023.
• Tennessee last had two 20-point scorers on Nov. 9, 2021, when Kennedy Chandler and Santiago Vescovi each had 20 against UT Martin.
• Gainey, in just his 71st collegiate outing, eclipsed 1,000 career points on a layup with 7:47 remaining in the first half.
• Zeigler's seven assists were the most by a Volunteer since he posted 11 on Feb. 25, 2023, versus South Carolina.
• Before Cadeau, the last player with 10-plus assists against Tennessee was Louisiana's Themus Fulks, who had 11 on March 16, 2023, in Orlando, Fla. In the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
• The last time an opponent had double-digit assists versus Tennessee in a regular season game was Dec. 12, 2015, when Butler's Roosevelt Jones notched 10 in Barnes' eighth game as the Volunteers' head coach.

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