KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Behind a career-high 39 points from fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht, the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team rolled past Florida, 85-66, Tuesday night at Food City Center.
Knecht, who became the first Volunteer with back-to-back 30-point games since Chris Lofton in Feb. 2006, helped No. 6/7 Tennessee (13-4, 3-1 SEC) build a lead as high as 22 in a game it never trailed.
After a sluggish start offensively for both sides, the Volunteers scored eight straight points, part of a 10-1 burst in 4:20, to go up by a dozen, 24-12, with 7:05 on the first-half clock. The Gators went over five minutes without a field goal, missing five in a row in a 1-of-10 stretch.
Tennessee extended the advantage all the way to 17, 36-19, with 3:26 left in the frame. It made six consecutive field goals, including four by Knecht, who went on a personal 10-2 run in under two minutes. The Gators pulled back within 10, but Knecht hit back-to-back 3-pointers to make it a 16-point game with 38 ticks left in the session.
Florida (11-6, 1-3 SEC) scored the final four points of the frame and the Volunteers entered the locker room with a 12-point edge, 44-32. Knecht scored 22 points in the opening 20 minutes, making nine consecutive field goals-three from 3-point range-after missing his opening attempt.
Soon after the intermission, the Volunteers pushed the margin up to 20 for the first time with seven consecutive points in 49 seconds, including five by junior guard Zakai Zeigler, making it 57-37 with 15:46 to go. Florida answered with a 12-2 spurt in just 2:25 to slice the deficit in half, 59-49, with 12:54 to go.
Tennessee, though, countered with 12 straight points in 4:28 to take a game-best 22-point edge, 73-51, with 7:40 to go, forcing seven straight misses by the Gators. From that point on, Florida never got any closer than 17, as the Volunteers earned their second SEC home win by 19-plus in as many opportunities.
Knecht’s 39 points came on 13-of-23 shooting, a ledger that featured a 13-of-20 stretch from the 17:11 mark of the first half to the 4:18 mark of the second. He went 4-of-6 from 3-point range, including hitting his first four attempts, and made all nine of his free-throw attempts. The reigning SEC Co-Player of the Week added a season-high eight rebounds and committed just one turnover in his 34 minutes of action.
The Thornton, Colo., native is now one of just six Volunteers-the others are Dale Ellis, Ernie Grunfeld, Allan Houston, Bernard King and Tony White-with at least three 35-point performances. He has also recorded the most points in back-to-back-to-back contests by a Rick Barnes-coached player since Kevin Durant also had 103 in a three-game stretch on his way to being the 2006-07 consensus national player of the year. The 103 points in a three-game span are also the most by an SEC player since the 2019-20 season, while the 75 in a two-game stretch are the most by an SEC competitor since the 2008-09 campaign.
Junior forward Jonas Aidoo nearly posted a second straight double-double, finishing with 19 points and a team-best nine rebounds. He went 9-of-16 from the floor, as well as blocked two shots and dished out two assists.
Junior guard Walter Clayton Jr., paced the Gators with 16 points, but Tennessee held him to a 6-of-18 field-goal clip, including a 1-of-7 figure beyond the arc. Sophomore guard Riley Kugel scored 12 points, while graduate student guard Zyon Pullin logged 11 with the Volunteers limiting him to a 2-of-11 shooting mark. Graduate student forward Tyrese Samuel added 10 points and a game-best 11 rebounds.
Tennessee finished the night shooting 51.7 percent (31-of-60) from the field and 17-of-21 (81.0 percent) at the line. It also held the Gators to just 29.4 percent (20-of-68) shooting, including a 22.7 percent (5-of-22) ledger on 3-pointers.
The Volunteers, who had 17 assists to Florida’s seven, also produced a 38-26 advantage in paint points in the triumph.
Up next for Tennessee is another home matchup at Food City Center, as it takes the court Saturday at 2 p.m. against Alabama, live on ESPN2.