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Tennessee takes down top-ranked Alabama, spoils 'Tides's conference unbeaten hopes

 Brian Hartman   in Basketball

Tennessee snapped a two-game losing streak and ended Alabama's dreams of an 18-0 conference record.

Santiago Vescovi/Jamai Mashack photo courtesy of Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee athletics.

Tenth-ranked Tennessee picked up its sixth win over an Associated Press top-ranked team in program history by defeating Alabama in Knoxville, 68-59. 

Zakai Zeigler (4-of-11 on field goals) and Santiago Vescovi (4-of-10) both led the Vols (20-6, 9-4 Southeastern Conference) in scoring with 15 points each. Zeigler led Tennessee with eight assists. 

Jonas Aidoo and Uros Plavsic (who hit all four of his field-goal attempts) also scored in double figures for the Vols with 12 and 10 points respectively. 

The Vols had 15 more shots that Alabama, which shot just 35.4% on the night compared to Tennessee's 36.5%.

Aidoo's team high 11 rebounds gave him a double-double. Olivier Nkamhoua chipped in with nine points for Tennessee.

Alabama committed 19 turnovers, which led to 26 points for the Vols. Jahvon Quinerly was responsible for six of them. 

The Vols, meanwhile, had just eight, leading to two Crimson Tide points.  

"Tennessee proved why they have the number one defense in the country. We turned the basketball over  too much. It was their physicality and we didn't handle it well," Alabama head coach Nate Oats said. 

Brandon Miller led Alabama (22-4, 12-1) with 15 points and 10 rebounds, but was just 4-for-11 from the floor. The Tennessee native fouled out with 41 seconds left and the Vols leading by six. 

Jaden Bradley added 14 and Nimari Burnett, 11, for the Crimson Tide. Ten of Bradley's of his points came from the free throw line. 

Another key to Tennessee's win was holding guard Mark Sears to two points for Alabama, well below his 14 ppg average. 

Alabama's 59 points was its lowest scoring output of the season. It came in averaging 83.4 ppg 

"We feel like we can beat anybody in the country on any given day because we have the No.1 defense," Zeigler said. 

Tennessee's Jaimai Mashack didn't score, but his defense bothered Miller all game long. Mashack collected three steals and three rebounds. 

"I can't tell you how proud I am of our guy's defensive effort for 40 minutes. They never became disconnected and our coaching staff did a terrific job. Just incredible defensive intensity and effort," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. 

Tennessee won despite the fact starters Josiah-Jordan James and Julian Phillips did not dress due to injuries. James has an ankle injury. Phillips has a hip flexor. Both are day-to-day. 

Miller's basket with 13:43 left in the first half gave the Tide their only lead of the game, 12-11. The game was tied 29-29 at halftime. 

Miller's 3-pointer with 14:16 left in the game tied the game at 40. Plavsic's basket with 13:38 on the clock gave the Vols the lead for good, starting an 11-3 run as the Vols took control. 

Plavsic's three-point play put the Vols up 56-47 with 5:20 left, their largest lead of the game. 

Alabama cut their deficit to 58-54 on two Bradley free throws with 3:32 left. Jonas Aidoo's tip in on the ensuing possession and Zeigler's acrobatic, left-handed lay up high off the glass with 2:15 to play gave the Vols a 62-54 lead. 

Tennessee closed the game out by hitting six free throws during the final 51 seconds. 


- This was only the third time two AP-top-10 teams have faced each other in Thompson-Boling Arena history. The second occasion was 2 1/2 weeks ago when the Vols beat Texas. 

- The Vols last win over a top-ranked AP team was in December of 2018, when Tennessee beat Gonzaga, 76-73.

- Aidoo's 12 points were his most since scoring 15 points on Jan 7 at South Carolina. This was only his third double-digit scoring output of the season. 

- Plavsic's 10 points were his most since scoring 18 against Kentucky on Jan 14. 

- Tennessee got just two points from Tyreke Key, who was 1-of-9 from the floor and had 23 in Saturday's loss to Missouri.

- Tennessee ended a two-game losing streak. Both Vanderbilt and Missouri beat the Vols by one point, each hitting a 3-point shot at the buzzer over the past week. 

"We just needed to get our swagger back. If we continue to play with that type of heart, we'll be fine," Vescovi said. 

- Barnes was asked how his team stuck together as they went through a very difficult week. "It's about the quality of player we recruit and the foundation of this program. It speaks out about each guy's character," Barnes said.