Vols Edge Texas in Defensive Struggle; Second Half Run Sends UNC to Sweet 16

Ken Cross

March 28, 2024 at 12:18 am.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The Tennessee Vols stopped the Texas Longhorns, 62-58, as neither team would relent to the other. It turned out to be a defensive slugfest in Charlotte’s Spectrum Center.

Tennessee led for most of the evening, but the Longhorns would never lose focus, and when Max Abmas cut Tennessee’s lead to 56-55 on a layup with inside of a minute to play, the pressure mounted on the Vols.

SEC Player of the Year Dalton Knecht made four free throws and Jonas Aidoo netted two to allow the Volunteers to move on to the Sweet 16 and a matchup with Creighton.

It was an incredible defensive matchup as Texas shot only 36.4 percent from the floor, while the Vols were stopped at 33.8 percent and only made 3-of-25 three-point field goal attempts.

“We felt if we did what we needed to do, they would end up going to their matchup zone,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “We got looks out of it; we didn’t convert it. Yet we kept our poise, and they got really aggressive there at the end trying to drive it downhill.”

After Abmas cut the Tennessee lead to 18-17 with a triple, Vols point guard Zakai Zeigler scored four points in a 10-0 run to push the lead to 28-19 at halftime.

Knecht, the Vols leading scorer, had a tough shooting night, but still wound up with 22 points on 5-of-18 shooting. Knecht’s three-ball was off as the Longhorns’ defense tended to that as well.

“Despite my shooting performance today, they had confidence in me to go take those shots, and I can’t thank the coach and the team enough,” said Knecht.

Texas cut a 40-28 Tennessee lead to 47-42 and then had the late rally where Tyrese Hunter scored six points in an 11-3 ‘Horns run that cut the lead to 56-55.

“We felt like we were getting good looks and we were playing good defense and getting stops,” said Texas forward Dylan Disu. “As long as you continue to get stops, eventually we’d make enough shots to get back in the game.”

Tar Heels Rally to Capture Sparty

Most people gave Michigan State a better-than-average opportunity to take down No. 1-seed North Carolina in the West Region.

In fact, once Spartans guard Ty Walker hit a three and gave Michigan State a 26-14 lead with 9:37 left before halftime, a potential upset looked like it might be even more viable.

At that point, Carolina big man Armando Bacot took the game over and scored eight points in a 20-0 Tar Heels run as Cormac Ryan’s triple finished the run and gave the Tar Heels a 37-28 lead with 2:02 to play.

“They punched first,” said UNC head coach Hubert Davis. “Their physicality, their will, their want-to, the first 10 minutes of the game just overwhelmed us.”

Davis then motivated his team during the subsequent timeout. He had to address the Spartans’ layups off the dribble as well as second-chance points and he noted that defensively.

“They were just playing better than us,” Davis explained. “We came into the huddle and said, ‘Look, we can’t talk about any basketball stuff until we join the fight.”

Spartans guard Jaden Akins hit a pair of threes and an and-one as he scored nine points in an 11-2 run that scissored Carolina’s margin to 48-46.

From there, Michigan State stayed within a run of putting Carolina in a precarious position, especially when Xavier Booker cut it back to 62-57 with 8:08 to play.

“We come back in the second half, and we took a couple of punches, and they took some too,” said Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, “We just couldn’t get over the hump.”

RJ Davis led four Tar Heels in double figures with 20 points as he had six in the final 3:27 for the Tar Heels to slam the door on Sparty.

“We ask a lot out of him,” Coach Davis said of RJ. “We ask him to handle the basketball, distribute, score, defend, rebound, lead our team. There’s a lot on his plate and he never complains, never whines, shows up every day, practices hard.”

Michigan State was led by Walker’s 24 points and Hall scored 17.

UNC had 16 points of 11 Spartans’ turnovers, while MSU out rebounded Carolina, 37-32.