Vols fall to FAU in Sweet Sixteen, 62-55
Florida Atlantic went on a 10-0 run in the second half.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - Following a pair of wins to open NCAA Tournament play last week in Orlando, the fourth-seeded Tennessee basketball team is set to compete in the Sweet Sixteen against No. 9 seed Florida Atlantic Thursday at approximately 9 p.m. inside Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Tennessee jumped out to a 7-5 lead early, but also picked up three quick fouls before the first media timeout. Santiago Vescovi, Jahmai Mashack and Uros Plavsic all picked up personals while defending. Vescovi and Tyreke Key both connected on three pointers coming out of the media timeout, but Mashack later picked up his second foul of the half and took a seat on the bench with Tennessee leading 15-8 with 12:17 to play.
A Johnell Davis layup tightened the Vols lead to seven before Jonas Aidoo picked up his first personal foul that led to the under-12 media timeout.
Tennessee’s defense settled in over the next few minutes - forcing nine FAU turnovers through the first 13-plus minutes of the game. The Owls were flying in and crashing the boards early on - taking a 15-9 advantage on the glass into the under-8 media timeout.
FAU’s Michael Forest knocked down a three pointer to cut Tennessee’s lead from nine down to six before the under-4 media timeout. After two Jonas Aidoo free throws, FAU’s Nick Boyd connected on the Owls third three pointer of the first half to cut Tennessee’s lead to five, 27-22 before the half.
Vescovi came out of the locker room on fire - knocking down two three pointers in the first two-plus minutes of the second half. FAU answered on its next possession following Vescovi’s second triple with one of its own to keep pace, 33-29.
Aidoo dropped a tough second-chance shot after FAU chipped Tennessee’s lead down to three. Mashack followed that up on UT’s next possession with a tough look of his own - a driving layup to give the Vols a 39-33 lead with 12:51 to play. Aidoo would later be called for a personal foul - his fourth - and head to the bench with 8:46 to play.
Florida Atlantic went on a 15-2 run to take a 48-41 lead at the under-8 media timeout. The run featured three made three pointers in less than three minutes by the Owls. Plavsic was whistled for a flagrant foul under the basket, giving FAU two foul shots and the ball. FAU extended its lead to double digits with a second-chance layup by Brandon Weatherspoon.
Mashack found a lane for a layup to cut the deficit to 6 with 4:38 to play before Josiah-Jordan James nailed a three from the wing. The shot made it a 55-50 FAU lead with 3:37 to play. FAU scored the next four points after a Nick Boyd layup and two made free throws by Johnell Davis, who was sent to the line by Santiago Vescovi.
Tennessee heaved up a couple desperation three pointers late, but ultimately fell to Florida Atlantic, 62-55.
Tennessee (25-10) advanced to the ninth Sweet Sixteen in program history by defeating No. 13 seed Louisiana and No. 5 seed Duke last week in Orlando. Most recently in the win over the Blue Devils, Olivier Nkamhoua exploded for a career-high-tying 27 points—23 of which came in the second half—while Santiago Vescovi added 14 points, five assists and five rebounds as Tennessee secured its first regional semifinal appearance since 2019.
Saturday’s win over Duke also gave Tennessee its 25th win of the season—marking the fourth season under head coach Rick Barnes that the Vols have reached the 25-win plateau. No other head coach in program history has reached 25 wins more than twice.
Tennessee owns an all-time record of 10-19 in the state of New York, dating to its debut there on Jan. 27, 1937 (a 30-24 loss at Long Island). In New York City, the Vols are 8-18 overall. Earlier this season, Tennessee beat 13th-ranked Maryland, 56-53, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn (Dec. 11). The Vols are 7-9 all-time at the current Madison Square Garden.
Injured Tennessee sophomore Zakai Zeigler is from nearby Wyandanch on Long Island. Freshman forward Tobe Awaka hails from Hyde Park. Tennessee has produced five basketball All-Americans from New York: Ed Wiener (Brooklyn), Ernie Grunfeld (Forest Hills), Bernard King (Brooklyn), Howard Wood (East Hampton) and current Philadelphia 76er Tobias Harris (Dix Hills).
The winner of Thursday’s game advances to Saturday’s Elite Eight in Madison Square Garden against the winner of No. 3 seed Kansas State and No. 7 seed Michigan State.
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