Tennessee basketball dominates in first round of the NCAA Tournament

Tennessee basketball cruised to a 83-49 win over Saint Peter's on Thursday as they advance to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament to play Texas on Saturday.

Saint Peter's v Tennessee
Saint Peter's v Tennessee / Jared C. Tilton/GettyImages

Tennessee basketball took a business trip to Charlotte, and they showed that their matchup against Saint Peter’s was all business. The Vols rolled into Grant Williams' house, won convincingly 83-49, and established themselves as a premier team in this year's tournament. 

Two players Tennessee needed to step up in their first-round matchup were Dalton Knecht and Jonas Aidoo. Both made their presence known to start the game, with Knecht starting the game with a made three and Aidoo following that with a blocked shot at the other end. 

Zakai Zeigler also got involved early. One storyline involved the Zeigler brothers playing against each other for the first time, but Zakai wasted no time getting going. Ten of the Vols' 17 points to start the game were a result of Zeigler's points or assists. He finished the night with a double-double, totaling 11 points and ten assists.

The Vols established and maintained control early in the game, separating themselves from the Peacocks enough to run the type of offense and defense they felt most confident in. They played loose and comfortable and looked a bit different from their last game in the SEC Tournament. 

Knecht played well to start the game, almost quietly, behind Aidoo's production and Zeigler's early four assists and five points. Knecht won't be able to have a quietly good game throughout this tournament because of the attention he already demands, but this is exactly the type of basketball Tennessee needs to play going forward.

If Knecht can score 25+ points and have hardly anyone notice because one or two other players are performing at a high level, Tennessee could go a long way in this tournament. 

The Vols’ defense was also a highlight early in the game. Saint Peter’s didn’t reach ten points until there was 6:40 left on the clock in the first half. Establishing their constrictive defense early allowed the Vols to run their offense at their pace throughout the game. 

Tennessee closed out the first half on a 15-4 run in the final five minutes of the first half. This pushed Tennessee’s lead to 26 at halftime. This was Tennessee’s largest halftime lead in an NCAA Tournament game in program history. 

Saint Peter's didn't have an answer for the Vols defensively. It seemed like one strategy they had was to just foul Tennessee players and hope they missed their free throws. While it's impossible to win a game by fouling, this wasn't the most successful strategy, but Tennessee shot 10-for-16 from the free-throw line in the first half. 

Even Santiago Vescovi was able to work out some of his shooting woes and knock down a couple of threes on his way to six points in the tournament opener.

Even though Tennessee pushed their lead over 30 points in the second half, the Vols continued to play hard, which is great to see, knowing that Tennessee is going to have to bring their best throughout the entire tournament. Jahmai Mashack and J.P. Estrella were both able to get some valuable playing time early in the tournament, which could help the Vols as they move deeper into the tournament.

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With Tennessee's 83-49 win over Saint Peter's, the Vols will prepare to face Barnes' former team, the Texas Longhorns, for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen.