Tennessee 81, Alabama 74

There are certain plays that, as Johnny Majors would say, will never be forgotten by the living fan. Peyton Manning to Joey Kent "on play number one," Chris Lofton's three over Kevin Durant, and Drew Gilbert's walk-off grand slam in the 2022 regionals come to mind. 

Saturday night in Tuscaloosa, we saw one of those type plays unfold when Jahmai Mashack hit a go-ahead three, stole a pass that ended up in the hands of Zakai Zeigler, who fed Jonas Aidoo for the layup and foul. The sequence not only gave Tennessee a lead they'd never relinquish, it set them up for a de facto championship game against South Carolina later this week... but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to the beginning. 

a win probability chart with highlighted moments from the Tennessee-Alabama basketball game on 3/2/24

  1. Tennessee comes into this game as 2.5-point underdogs and with just a 40.2% win probability. Of the four quad-1 games UT faces to close the season, this seems like the most likely loss. Bama fans are feeling this too, taking time to practice court-storming prevention (Fig. A.1) and chanting "o-ver-rat-ed" at the mere mention of Dalton Knecht's name (Fig. A.2). 
  2. In the first few minutes, Tennessee is flipping this script, jumping out to an early 7-4 lead to make the win probability to 50%. But it's a 10-0 Vol run that pushes the win prob. over the 70% mark, and it looks early like UT might just cruise to victory. Even after some cold shooting by the Vols, there is a stretch...
  3. Around the 4-5 minute mark of the first half where Tennessee is growing the lead and much of ESPN's coverage is focused on sad/mad Bama fans (Fig. B) in their Walmart throwback jerseys rethinking those "o-ver-rat-ed" chants from earlier. A three by Josiah-Jordan James puts the Vols ahead by 10 again, and Tennessee is doing this without Aidoo or Tobe Awaka, who both have early foul trouble. 
  4. And then it happens. Bama makes their move, clawing back that 10-point deficit with a 12-point run that gives the Tide a 41-39 halftime lead. The run continues in the second half, ultimately becoming a 17-1 stint that drops Tennessee's win prob. to 24.6% The Vols can't play their bigs because Pat Adams and co. are on a pace of 1.15 fouls/minute. Despite taking back the lead briefly on a Dalton Knecht three, things are about to get real bleak. 
  5. This trough of despair on the win prob. chart is where the game turns into a grind. Both teams combine to go 2-18 from the field from 15:00 to 10:00 in the second half. Even the refs are off their pace, calling just one foul/minute. With 9:00 left in the game, Tennessee is down six points, with a paltry 15% probability to win. Vol fans are looking up Bama's remaining schedule, hoping there's a potential loss left on the Tide's calendar that might give UT back the SEC lead. 
  6. And then it happens. One of the great basketball plays--one of the great hustle plays--you'll ever see. Jahmai Mashack hits a three, stalks Alabama's attempt to push the ball upcourt like a free safety, tips the ball in to Zeigler who finds Aidoo for the put in and a foul. It really doesn't even matter that Jonas misses the and-one (Fig. C). The message is sent. Tennessee has wrested this game back from the brink and taken a lead they will not give back. In a matter of seconds, UT goes from a 29.2% win prob. to a 70% likelihood. It will be 100% in a couple of minutes as Tennessee closes out one of the all-time great wins--a W so good it's got Donde Plowman tweeting the lyrics to Dixieland Delight (Fig. D).
Coming into this stretch of quad-1 games, it looked unlikely that Tennessee could go 4-0. Hopefully they could go 3-1, because 2-2 is a real possibility. This trip to Alabama seemed the most likely loss. With the record now sitting at 2-0 and Auburn and Alabama in the rear view, maybe 4-0 isn't impossible. South Carolina will not be a pushover. This game has become for the SEC title for a reason. But suddenly it seems more likely than not that UT wins out and takes the regular-season championship. If that happens, you've got to look back at the Mashack play as the catalyst that made it happen. 


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