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No. 8 Tennessee on rise as Tarleton State visits

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No. 8 Tennessee will aim to extend its winning streak to a season-high five games on Thursday evening when it hosts Tarleton State in Knoxville, Tenn.

The Volunteers (8-3) began the season by winning four in a row before dropping three straight games to ranked teams. Tennessee rebounded with four consecutive victories, including a 79-70 decision over North Carolina State on Saturday in a Hall of Fame Series game at San Antonio.

Fifth-year guard Josiah-Jordan James matched a career high with 23 points against the Wolfpack, highlighted by a personal-best five 3-pointers.

“I feel like you can feel the energy whether you were playing or whether you were watching, and I think that’s just what we do,” James said. “It is definitely what I do, and it’s definitely what I take pride in. I feel like I can affect the game no matter what, whether I’m scoring or whether I’m not.”

Tennessee turned up its defensive intensity during the latter stages of the second half. The Volunteers scored 19 of the game’s final 29 points during the last seven minutes.

“That’s what we hang our hats on,” James said. “We knew that in crunch time, that’s what we had to be able to rely on. I was proud of how we executed at the end.”

Zakai Zeigler made two loud statements, with one coming on the court and another off of it.

Zeigler set season highs in points (20), assists (eight), 3-pointers (four) and minutes played (38) as he continues to work his way back into form following ACL surgery in March.

“I’m back. That’s all I can really say. I’m back,” Zeigler said, per 247Sports.

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said of Zeigler’s performance, “Well, he really in some ways dominated the tempo, the flow of the game in terms of what he did, I mean, the four steals were big in terms of disrupting them. … You look at his line. I mean, it’s a great line and you look at the fact that he got his players involved. He knew what he needed to do (with) his teammates.”

Tennessee’s Dalton Knecht, who averages a team-best 16.5 points per game, was limited to two points vs. the Wolfpack due to a 1-for-7 performance from the field.

Tarleton State (8-3) will arrive in Knoxville with its coaching situation newly clarified.

Joseph Jones took over the program on Nov. 19 with head coach Billy Gillispie dealing with an undisclosed medical issue. On Tuesday, Jones was formally designated as the acting head coach.

“Billy Gillispie’s health is the first priority,” Tarleton State athletic director Lonn Reisman said in a statement. “At this time, his medical circumstances are preventing him from leading our men’s basketball program, and our prayers are with him.

“Until Coach Gillispie can return, we are officially labeling Joseph Jones as acting head coach. He has done a tremendous job over these few weeks, and we know he’ll continue to be a great leader for our men’s basketball student-athletes.”

The Texans saw their six-game winning streak end with a 65-62 setback against visiting Jacksonville State on Monday.

Devon Barnes scored 14 of his career-high 20 points in the first half for the Texans. He finished 8 of 16 from the floor, including 4 of 7 from 3-point range.

Tarleton State’s Lue Williams scored in double figures for the eighth time this season, putting up 15 points.

Jakorie Smith, who averages a team-best 15 points for the season, was limited to six points on 2-of-12 shooting from the floor on Monday.

–Field Level Media

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