The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
The Official Website of the Southeastern Conference
Thompson-Boling Arena - Knoxville, TN

No. 17 Tennessee upends No. 20 Illinois

74 days ago
Tennessee Athletics

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - The University of Tennessee men's basketball team turned a five-point second-half deficit into a 12-point lead en route to an 86-79 victory over No. 20/18 Illinois in a top-20 showdown Saturday afternoon at Food City Center.

Fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht scored 21 points, including 13 after halftime, to pace a quintet of double-digit scorers for No. 17/13 Tennessee (6-3) in front of a sold-out crowd.

"Maybe the most focused I thought our guys were in terms of the details of our scouting report all year. I thought they were really, really locked in in terms of knowing what we had to do on the defensive end," Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. "We rebounded the ball against an outstanding rebounding team. They really are relentless and ... it's a nice win against a team that's going to win a lot of basketball games this year and they're as good as anybody that we've played up to this point. Really great effort from our guys."

Despite a trio of early 3-pointers by Illinois (7-2, 1-0 B1G) the Volunteers earned an eight-point lead, 23-15, after just under eight minutes of play. The Fighting Illini, though, roared back to take a 31-30 edge-the go-ahead shot was the third made 3-pointer for graduate guard/forward Quincy Guerrier, eclipsing his prior season total-with 4:33 left in the frame.

Although Tennessee regained the advantage, Illinois hit its sixth 3-pointer of the half with 20 ticks left to take a two-point lead, 36-34, at the break. The Volunteers held the visitors to 11-of-32 (34.4 percent) shooting, including makes on just three of their final 14 attempts, and had four times as many assists (12-3), but Illinois was 8-of-10 from the stripe compared to Tennessee's 3-of-4 ledger.

The Fighting Illini scored the first three points of the second half, making it a 14-4 run dating back to the final seven-and-a-half minutes of the opening frame to take a game-best five-point edge, 39-34, with 18:29 left.

The Volunteers reclaimed the lead on a fast-break dunk by fifth-year guard Josiah-Jordan James after a midcourt steal and assist by junior guard Zakai Zeigler. Knecht then scored the next five points to make it a 10-0 surge in 2:34 and put Tennessee up by six, 50-44, with 13:43 to go. The burst eventually extended to 18-5, as a 3-pointer by junior guard Jordan Gainey upped the cushion to a then-game-best nine, 58-49, with 11:14 on the clock.

Tennessee extended its advantage as high as 12 on multiple occasions, the first time at 69-57 with 7:04 showing, making it a 29-13 extended spurt. Illinois twice trimmed the margin to five in the final minutes, but got no closer. The Volunteers went 15-of-19 from the line in the final six minutes, including 11-of-12 in the last two-and-a-half, tacking on points despite taking only three field goals-one went in-in the last seven minutes.

Junior forward Jonas Aidoo (14), James (12), fifth-year guard Santiago Vescovi (12) and Zeigler (11) all joined Knecht in double figures. It marked the first time this season five Volunteers reached that mark in the scoring column.

Aidoo went 6-of-12 and added seven rebounds, while James amassed a career-best seven assists to eclipse the career-best mark of six he matched just four days ago. Vescovi, before fouling out with 77 seconds on the clock, finished one rebound shy of a double-double with a game-high nine boards and Zeigler dished out four assists with no turnovers.

Jahmai Mashack tied a season high with nine points, making both his field goals and five of his six free throws. The junior guard also excelled on the defensive end, serving as one of the primary defenders-Vescovi was the other-on fifth-year guard Terrence Shannon Jr., who went just 2-of-12 from the field in the first 35 minutes of the contest.

Shannon eventually finished with 22 points, going 5-of-16 from the floor and a perfect 11-of-11 at the stripe. Nine of his points came in the final two minutes.

Guerrier matched Shannon with 22 points of his own, shooting 7-of-14 from the floor and 3-of-8 beyond the line. Senior forward Coleman Hawkins notched 12 points, but the Volunteers held him to a 4-of-13 clip, including a 3-of-10 mark from deep.

Graduate guard/forward Marcus Domask-who, like Shannon, was coming off a 33-point performance Tuesday against No. 11/9 Florida Atlantic-made just one of his first 10 shots against a Zeigler-led stingy defensive effort. He went 2-of-11 from the floor and missed all five of his 3-point attempts.

The Volunteers shot 45.0 percent (27-of-60), including 52.0 percent (13-of-25) in the second session. At the other end, they held the Fighting Illini to a 35.4 percent (23-of-65) ledger overall and a 25.0 percent (9-of-36) mark from long range.

Tennessee also had a 21-9 margin in assists, a 43-34 edge in rebounds and a 38-24 advantage in paint points.

The Volunteers wrap up their three-game homestand Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Georgia Southern, live on SEC Network from 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.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS POSTGAME NOTES

  • Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes now owns 785 victories in his career, putting him one behind Lefty Driesell for No. 15 on the all-time wins list (min. five years at a Division I school).
  • The Volunteers now own a 25-game non-conference home winning streak, dating back to the 2020-21 season opener versus Colorado on Dec. 8, 2020. 
  • Saturday's contest capped the third stretch in program history in which Tennessee played four AP top-20 teams in a five game stretch, including the first since Jan. 2012, as well as marked the fifth current KenPom top-15 foe the Volunteers have played in their past eight outings. 
  • The Volunteers improved to 22-20 in top-25 matchups in Barnes' nine seasons, including 17-13 with both teams in the top 20. 
  • Tennessee is now 16-14 against ranked teams over the last four seasons-no other SEC team has a winning record in such games during that stretch-including 15-9 versus top-20 foes. • The Volunteers snapped a five-game losing skid, dating back to the 2022-23 season, when trailing at halftime.
  • With a crowd of 21,678 in attendance, Saturday marked the first sellout of the season at Food City Center.
  • Saturday's contest was also the first weekend outing of the year for the Volunteers, as well as their first one in cream uniforms. 
  • The Volunteers have now posted at least a dozen more assists than their opponent in back-to-back contests, as they registered a 27-11 margin Tuesday against George Mason. 
  • Tennessee opened the contest 12-of-20 from the floor, but then went 2-of-15 the remainder of the first half to finish it 14-of-35 (40.0 percent). 
  • Guerrier made both of his 3-pointers in the first two-and-a-half minutes of the game after coming in 2-of-20 on the season, sparking a 3-of-4 start from long range for the Fighting Illini, who then missed six in a row. • Shannon became the fifth Tennessee opponent to make double-digit free throws without a miss in Barnes' nine-year tenure, including the first since LSU's Cameron Thomas posted an equal 11-of-11 ledger on Feb. 13, 2021.
  • With 13 points after the break, Knecht recorded his 10th double-digit scoring half this season in just 18 possible opportunities. 
  • Knecht has now scored 16-plus points and led the team in scoring in seven of his nine games as a Volunteer. 
  • James recorded the 150th steal of his career, becoming the 11th player in Tennessee history to reach that number and tying Brandon Wharton (1995-99) for No. 10 on the program's all-time leaderboard. 
  • With a career-high seven assists, James logged six-plus for the second consecutive game after not previously hitting that number in any contest over the prior three seasons. 
  • Vescovi fouled out for just the fifth time in his career and the first since Jan. 28, 2023, against Texas, also a top-20 victory for the Volunteers. 
  • The nine rebounds marked the third-most of Vescovi's career and his highest total ever in a home game, surpassing the eight he logged in that same contest against the Longhorns.
  • Sophomore forward Tobe Awaka grabbed seven rebounds to match the season high he set Tuesday versus George Mason.