No. 2 Tennessee jumps on top early, slams Saint Peter's

League: NCAA Basketball

Posted on: 22 Mar, 2024 at 04:35 AM

Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dalton Knecht poured in 23 points and Tennessee blew out Saint Peter's 83-49 in the NCAA Tournament Midwest Region first-round game Thursday night, preventing the development of another Cinderella postseason for the Peacocks.

Jonas Aidoo posted 15 points and Zakai Zeigler provided 11 points and 10 assists for the Volunteers, who led by as many as 29 points in the first half.

Second-seeded Tennessee (25-8) takes on seventh-seeded Texas (21-12), which eliminated 10th-seeded Colorado State 56-44 earlier Thursday, in the second round on Saturday. That contest will pit Tennessee coach Rick Barnes against his former team.

"Really proud of our guys' focus getting ready and understanding what we needed to do to win the game tonight," Barnes said, "but also have to really congratulate Saint Peter's for being here. But just really proud of the way our guys prepared getting ready for this game and the way we came out in the first half and really played well defensively."

Latrell Reid's 17 points and Marcus Randolph's nine points paced No. 15 seed Saint Peter's (19-14), which was trying to duplicate the deep tournament run it enjoyed two years ago by reaching the Elite Eight as a No. 15 seed. The Peacocks were winners of eight of their past 10 games prior to Thursday.

Knecht drained four of his eight 3-point shots as part of Tennessee's 11-for-24 shooting from long range. The Peacocks were 4-for-24 on 3-point attempts.

Saint Peter's gave up more than 65 points only once in its previous 11 games, but the Volunteers reached that mark 12 minutes before the game's end.

Saint Peter's coach Bashir Mason said, "I asked the officials, 'Can we start running the clock?' It was that difficult to look up at the score. As a coach, you kind of know we're not going to be able to get back into this fight."

The Volunteers went up 29-7, and that pretty much signaled the direction of this game. Aidoo had three dunks in the first 3 1/2 minutes.

"I feel like we had to get our toughness back," Tennessee's Zeigler said. "Tonight I feel like we did from the jump. The entire game, we kept our foot on their necks."

Knecht and Aidoo each had 13 points in the first half, which ended with Tennessee leading 46-20. The Volunteers shot 64 percent from the field before the break, compared to 23.3 percent for Saint Peter's.

"Those guys are good," Mason said. "Ton of respect for Tennessee, how hard they played, how detailed they were. The amount of respect they showed for us in terms of how hard they played."

There was a feisty moment in the half when Tennessee reserve Jordan Gainey and the Peacocks' Reid were assessed technical fouls, but the Volunteers led 36-15 at the time. It counted as Reid's third personal foul, so that was another blow to the Peacocks.

Tennessee entered the tournament on a two-game skid with losses to teams -- Kentucky and Mississippi State -- that were ousted in the tournament earlier Thursday.

--Bob Sutton, Field Level Media