Vols with 30+ Points in Wins vs Ranked Teams

The most jarring thing to happen last night that didn’t involve Dalton Knecht was the “Bruce Pearl, 10th season at Auburn” graphic. Which can’t be right, but I’m getting ready to throw a lot of research at you from ESPN’s website, so let’s trust the process. It doesn’t feel that way because, like Rick Barnes at Tennessee, it took a second to get going like this. Pearl’s first two Auburn teams went 9-27 in SEC play, then an 18-14 campaign, then six NCAA Tournament teams in seven seasons, five of them seeded five or higher (assuming the 2020 group would’ve gotten there and this one will too), and one Final Four.

Rick Barnes’ first two teams went 18-22 in SEC play, and the 2020 squad was bubble centric. Which makes for the same six NCAA Tournament teams in seven seasons, all of them seeded five or higher.

Auburn is in the midst of unprecedented basketball success. Tennessee walked that same road with Pearl in the past, and is now living its best life again with Barnes. In the short and long term, both of these programs have much to be grateful for, and so many good memories made.

And in the midst of all that last night was Knecht, the architect of maybe the best individual performance I’ve ever seen at Tennessee, on a team that is right there to earn the program’s first ever one seed.

A mere 17 (!!!) years ago, when it was Pearl on our sideline, we had a guy named Chris Lofton, ever heard of him? And one of my favorite talking points was how Lofton’s very best performance was overshadowed by his very best individual shot. On December 23, 2006, Lofton hit that bomb over Kevin Durant. Rick Barnes was there too! The Vols completed a wild comeback and took down Texas 111-105 in overtime. It was a volume day: Durant had 26 points on 22 shots, Lofton 35 on just 8-of-24 from the field.

But seventeen days earlier, a ranked Memphis squad rolled into town. And Lofton did this in the first half:

(This grainy footage makes me feel so old to realize I was 25 years old when it was taken and not, you know, two.)

Lofton almost outscored Memphis in the first half, falling a point behind 22-21. He did it in every way imaginable, which sounds very familiar from last night. He added 13 more in the second half to finish with 34 points on 18 shots, 6-of-11 from three, and the Vols crushed #17 Memphis 76-58.

The Durant legend grew, appropriately. That Memphis team ended up a two seed in the Elite Eight, setting the stage for an even bigger showdown between the Vols and Tigers the following season.

The shot and the guy he shot it over makes the Texas memory the winner. But for an overall performance – the best you’ve ever seen anyone play wearing orange – Lofton vs Memphis was still my pick.

A mere five years ago, Admiral Schofield and the Vols went to the desert to face #1 Gonzaga – one of many favorable trips to Arizona for this athletic department, which is good news with the Final Four in Phoenix. Schofield had 30 points, 25 in the second half, and Tennessee won an absolute thriller 76-73.

At the time, we called it the best individual performance since Chris Lofton was around. Those Vols went on to spend a month at number one. That Gonzaga team is still the best Tennessee has ever beaten by way of KenPom.

And a mere 24 hours ago, Dalton Knecht vs #11 Auburn.

What I love about all three of these: the color commentator can’t help himself. Jimmy Dykes saw both Lofton and Knecht last night in Knoxville. Sean Farnham with the “stop it!” for Schofield against Gonzaga. It’s better than speechless.

Knecht scored 25 points in the final 12 minutes, outscoring the Tigers over that stretch to turn an eight-point deficit into an eight-point win. Shout out to Santiago Vescovi, who didn’t score all night, then made every basketball coach on the face of the earth smile by grabbing an offensive rebound and putting Knecht’s final shot back in to put the game away.

We’ve seen Knecht go for 30 and 35+ plenty at this point. And we’re used to talking about things in post-Lofton language, a guy so good he deserved his own category. The Ernie & Bernie stuff is even grainier footage, it’s before my time. Allan Houston was a monster when I was a kid, but his teams weren’t able to rise to the level of the ones Lofton, Schofield, and Knecht were surrounded by.

But what Knecht did last night isn’t just good for post-Lofton. It might be as good as anything anyone, Lofton included, has done here.

So, how do we quantify these kind of performances? Turns out, just from starting with these three and working back through ESPN’s website…they pretty much stand on their own.

A shout out to Kevin Punter’s 36 points against #24 South Carolina in 2016, Barnes’ first season. That one joins these:

  • Chris Lofton 34 points vs #17 Memphis (12-of-18, 6-of-11 3PT)
  • Kevin Punter 36 points vs #24 South Carolina (8-of-16, 6-of-11 3PT)
  • Admiral Schofield 30 points vs #1 Gonzaga (12-of-22, 6-of-10 3PT)
  • Dalton Knecht 39 points vs #11 Auburn (12-of-21, 5-of-8 3PT)

…as the only Vols to score 30+ points in a win over a ranked team from Bruce Pearl through Rick Barnes.

This is rare stuff, friends.

Enjoy every possession.

Go Vols.

5 2 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
4 months ago

I was in the building for Allan Houston’s 43-point night as a freshman against LSU (in which he was outdueled by the amazing Chris Jackson, who put up 49 in the Tigers’ victory.) The only other Vol to outscore Knecht’s two (!) 39-point explosions at Thompson-Boling this year was Dyron Nix in the 1988 home opener against TN Tech with 40. All other UT 39+ point performances at home were at Stokely. I missed Knecht’s 39-point night against Florida – the only home game I’ve missed this season – because we were snowed in, so I was very happy to… Read more »