Dalton Knecht Scores 21 To Lead No. 17 Tennessee Over No. 20 Illinois 86-79

Tennessee guard Zakai Zeigler (5) and Illinois forward Marcus Domask (3) dive for a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
Tennessee guard Zakai Zeigler (5) and Illinois forward Marcus Domask (3) dive for a loose ball during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023 in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)
View All (5)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Dalton Knecht scored 21 points and No. 17 Tennessee rallied from a second-half deficit to beat No. 20 Illinois 86-79 Saturday.

Knecht had eight points in a pivotal four-minute stretch when Tennessee (6-3) rallied from a four-point deficit to a six-point lead with just over 13 minutes to play. The Illini were held scoreless in the stretch.

“This was the most focus, knowing what we had to do on the defensive end, all season,” said Tennessee coach Rick Barnes. “(The Illini) challenge everything you do.”

“Dalton's really good,” said Illinois coach Brad Underwood. “Let's be real. He does a good job getting fouled.”

Guard Santiago Vescovi added 12 points and nine rebounds against the much-taller Illini. Jonas Aidoo scored 14 and Josiah-Jordan James had 12 points and seven assists and Zakai Zeigler scored 11. Tennessee commanded the boards, 43-34.

“(Tennessee) whooped our butt on the glass in the second half,” said Underwood.

“(Vescovi) is such a big part of who we've been,” Barnes said. “I'm really proud of him and the older guys. They were prepared for this.” (Vescovi) had an aggressive mentality. He was able to have the ‘fix-it’ plays that are so important."

Quincy Guerrier and Terrence Shannon scored 22 each to lead Illinois (7-2). Coleman Hawkins had 12. The Illini were limited to 35% shooting from the field.

“We're really good,” said Underwood. “We've got a really high ceiling. We just missed some shots and were out of sorts.”

Tennessee went more than four minutes without scoring in the first half, allowing Illinois to build a 36-34 halftime lead behind 12 points by Guerrier. Knecht, who was limited to 11 minutes by foul trouble, led the Vols with eight.

THE TAKEAWAY

Illinois: Consistency is a primary objective for the Illini as they begin to close out their December schedule and head into the meat grinder of their Big Ten campaign. The win over Florida Atlantic and relatively strong performance against Tennessee will be efforts to build off.

Tennessee: Having played five teams that are currently ranked in the Top 25 in their first nine games can do nothing but help the Vols down the road. Tennessee begins Southeastern Conference play against Ole Miss Jan. 6.

NEXT UP

Illinois: The Illini will have eight days off for exams before hosting Colgate Sunday, Dec. 17.

Tennessee: Host Georgia Southern on Tuesday.

___

Get poll alerts and updates on AP Top 25 basketball throughout the season. Sign up here.

___

AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball