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Vols fend off S.C. run for 1st SEC crown since ’18

vols-fend-off-sc.-run-for-1st-sec-crown-since-’18
Vols fend off S.C. run for 1st SEC crown since ’18

Dalton Knecht silences the crowd with this triple (0:16)

Dalton Knecht gets to his spot and knocks down the contested triple for Tennessee. (0:16)

  • ESPN News Services

Mar 6, 2024, 09:45 PM ET

Dalton Knecht happily wore his orange SEC champs hat. He knows, however, that Tennessee’s goals don’t end with its first Southeastern Conference regular-season title in six years.

Knecht had 26 points, including a four-point play, as the fourth-ranked Volunteers withstood a late run by No. 17 South Carolina for a 66-59 victory Wednesday night.

The Gamecocks (24-6, 12-5 SEC) cut a 14-point second-half deficit to 59-56 on Meechie Johnson‘s inside shot with 1:13 to go. But the Vols (24-6, 14-3) hit seven free throws the rest of the way to hold on and open a two-game cushion in the SEC with one to play.

Tennessee shared the regular-season title six years ago with Auburn. The last time the Vols had won it outright was 2008.

It was satisfying performance for Knecht.

“It feels great,” he said. “We got the job done, but at the same time, the job’s not done. We’ve got the SEC tournament and the big one” in the NCAAs.

With Knecht hitting shots the way he did against South Carolina, Tennessee will be a hard out.

“One thing about Dalton, he’s not afraid,” Volunteers coach Rick Barnes said. “The guys feed off him. He gives them confidence.”

Knecht had plenty of confidence-boosting moments in this one. With the Gamecocks trailing 24-22 right before halftime, Knecht hit three 3-pointers over four possessions as the Vols used an 11-2 burst to open a double-digit lead.

After the Gamecocks rallied back within six, Knecht hit his fifth 3, got fouled and made the free throw.

“That was my first in a long time,” he said, smiling. “Connect four.”

According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Knecht is the first Tennessee player to record 10 25-point games in a season over the past 25 seasons.

Johnson led South Carolina with 18 points.

The Gamecocks needed a win over Tennessee — they won at Rocky Top in January — to tie for first in the SEC, a season after going 11-21. They were picked last in the media preseason poll this past October.

Freshman forward Collin Murray-Boyles, who had his second straight double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds, said the team was disappointed its run at a regular-season title came up short.

“It’s never going to be easy” to put that aside, he said. “But we just have to focus on the next part.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.

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