CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht pushed the ball in transition, took a bump from a Saint Peter’s defender and hit a layup through the whistle. As he landed, he stumbled over a baseline cameraman, but twisted to recover as he fell and landed in a position befitting a quality-form pushup.

The Volunteers were too strong. Too deep. And they weren't going to allow the Peacocks even a hint of another memorable March Madness run.

Knecht scored 23 points and Tennessee shot 64% in the first half to build a huge lead before beating Saint Peter's 83-49 on Thursday night in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Jonas Aidoo added 13 of his 15 points by halftime for the Midwest Region's No. 2 seed.

Tennessee (25-8), which won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, lost its regular-season finale to Kentucky and its lone SEC Tournament game against Mississippi State. But there was no sign of the hiccups from multiple recent March stumbles, setting up a reunion for coach Rick Barnes and his former Texas program in the second round.

“When we went back on the court and went to work, they did respond,” Barnes said. “Just proud of them. They were really focused with what we needed to get done.”

Tennessee ran out to a double-digit lead in the first eight minutes, used a 9-0 burst to push the margin past 20, then increased it to 29 shortly before halftime.

“We kept trying to tell them to have fun," Barnes said of the leadup to the game. “We've worked hard to be here.”

The Volunteers came in ranked third in KenPom's adjusted defensive efficiency by allowing 91.2 points per 100 possessions. And they were smothering, both in contesting shots early and using their strong frames to assert complete ownership of the glass (47-21).

Knecht, voted a first-team All-American by The Associated Press earlier this week, buried a 3-pointer on a catch-and-fire inbounds pass just 20 seconds in, finishing with eight rebounds and four 3s.

There was little the Peacocks (19-14) could do in response, between the Vols repeatedly getting point-blank or clean looks while Saint Peter's struggled to knock down much of anything. That included Tennessee locking down on Corey Washington, who was averaging 16.8 points but finished with two on 1-for-9 shooting.

“Man, those guys are good,” coach Bashir Mason said as soon as he sat down for his postgame news conference.

Latrell Reid scored 17 for Saint Peter's, which became a March Madness legend two years ago by becoming the only No. 15 regional seed to reach a regional final. The hope was to re-create a taste of that magic against the Volunteers despite a nearly complete overhaul of roster and coaching staff, but the Peacocks missed 17 of their first 20 shots to watch this one get away quickly.

“It's like playing yourself, but like 3 inches taller,” Reid said. “It's a little different. Windows close a little faster. Every time you make a mistake, they make you pay.”


Saint Peter's: The Peacocks busted brackets during that 2022 run, with wins against Kentucky, Murray State and Purdue. They weren't supposed to be back in March Madness this year after being picked 10th in the 11-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, yet they stunned regular-season champion Quinnipiac in the MAAC Tournament semifinals before beating Fairfield to win the title and secure only their fifth NCAA bid. But there would be no Cinderella story this time around, with Saint Peter's shooting 29.1% overall and 4 of 24 from 3-point range.

Tennessee: The Volunteers' postseason history under Barnes had been spotty, with five NCAA losses to lower seeds in as many seasons. Four of those came to teams sitting at least five seed lines lower than Tennessee, which has reached the second weekend just twice despite carrying at least a No. 5 seed each time. There was no worries with this one, as the Vols handling business with ruthless efficiency expected in a 2-vs-15 matchup.


The 6-foot-11 Aidoo had a fast start, following Knecht’s 3 with a pair of quick dunks. He added a third slam moments later, putting a little extra swing and kick while hanging on the rim after being futilely fouled from behind by Mouhamed Sow - a play that had Mason say to Sow from the sideline simply: “Why?”

“For me, it was just saying aggressive at all times," Aidoo said. “Coach preached that to me a lot, so I was just really staying aggressive with that.”


Reid was ejected with 49 seconds left for picking up his second technical foul for what he said was jawing with a Tennessee player. He was called for his first technical for some words with Tennessee's Jordan Gainey in the first half.

Reid apologized for getting ejected at the news conference.

“I'm a competitor, and I didn't mean for it to get the best of me today,” Reid said.


The Volunteers have faced the Longhorns twice in Barnes' tenure in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, losing on the road in January 2022 but winning the home matchup the following year.


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