All-American Dalton Knecht leads No. 2 Tennessee back to the Sweet 16 with 62-58 win over Texas


CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Tennessee Volunteers are back in the Sweet 16 under coach Rick Barnes. Now the question becomes if they can advance beyond this point.

Dalton Knecht scored 18 points and made four free throws in the final 8.8 seconds as the Volunteers topped Texas 62-58 on Saturday to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year.

Second-seeded Tennessee advanced to face No. 3 Creighton, an 86-73 winner in double overtime over No. 11 Oregon.

Tennessee has reached the Sweet 16 twice before under Barnes, but lost both times. This time, however, it has an Associated Press All-American in Knecht on its side, which Texas coach Rodney Terry said can be the difference in making a deep run in the tournament.

“Any time you have star power with a guy that’s a really hard one-on-one matchup that could take over a game, that gives you an opportunity to be elite,” Terry said. “They have that. They have a guy that on any given night he could go for 30 in a game, and he could change the outcome of a game. They’ve got a bona fide star in Dalton, and he could definitely carry those guys away down the stretch.”

Knecht shot just 5 of 18 from the field, but his free throw shooting was clutch amid distractive screams, howls and whistling in the arena.

“We were walking out of that timeout, and I told (point guard Zakai Zeigler) I want the ball in my hands,” Knecht said. “He had trust in me, and the whole team had trust in me. Despite my shooting performance today, they had trust in me to go make those shots.”

Knecht wasn’t the only one to struggle from the field as the Volunteers shot just 34% as a team.

“These are the kinds of games in the tournament you get bounced when you shoot as poorly as we did, but we found a way with our defense,” Barnes said. “The 10 extra shots that we got (via offensive rebounds) were obviously important to us. But had to get it done on the defensive end.”

Jonas Aidoo had 11 points and Tobe Awaka added 10 for the Volunteers (26-8), helping Barnes beat the team he coached for 17 seasons.

Tyrese Hunter and Chendall Weaver each had 13 points for seventh-seeded Texas (21-13).

The Vols shot just 29% from the field in the first half, but managed to take a 38-29 lead into the locker room.

Knecht struggled early on, missing his first four shots, including an air ball on a fadeaway jumper. He converted his first field goal with 90 seconds remaining in the first half, putting Tennessee up by 11.

Knecht began to flex his muscles with a pair of second-half dunks, one of which came after he grabbed a missed transition 3 in the air and jammed it home with two hands. And he shook his head in a sign of relief after finally getting a 3 to drop in the second half.

But the Longhorns cut the lead to 45-42 with seven minutes left after Max Abmas buried a 3, forcing Barnes to call a timeout.

Disu then came up with the defensive play of the game, blocking Aidoo on a drive to give Texas a chance to tie it up. But Disu missed a layup and Hunter couldn’t convert on a putback on the other end, and the Longhorns could never get the big shot they needed.

After Knecht hit two free throws with 8.8 seconds left, Hunter splashed a 3 from 28 feet to cut the lead to 60-58. But Texas sent Knecht back to the line with 3 seconds left and he knocked down two more free throws.

BIG PICTURE

Texas: The Longhorns struggled down the stretch of the season. They lost to Kansas State in the opening round of the Big 12 Tournament, killing some of their momentum heading into the NCAA tourney. “We started the season with our two big men injured, get them back, and find a way to continue to prove people wrong,” Abmas said. “They continue to count us out, but we never paid attention to that. We just focused on us.”

Tennessee: Knecht has given the Vols the big-time scorer they need to possibly advance out of the Sweet 16 for the first time under Barnes.

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness



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