No. 7 Tennessee opens Maui Invitational by topping Syracuse

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Dalton Knecht scored 17 points as No. 7 Tennessee pulled away from Syracuse 73-56 on Monday at the Maui Invitational, played this year in Honolulu due to the wildfires that ravaged Maui earlier in 2023.

Josiah-Jordan James and Jonas Aidoo each posted a double-double for the Volunteers (4-0), who are seeking their first title as they play in the Maui Invitational for the fourth time. They will return to the court Tuesday against either No. 2 Purdue or No. 11 Gonzaga.

James contributed 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Aidoo notched 14 points and 11 boards as Tennessee outrebounded Syracuse 48-33.

Chris Bell had 16 points to pace the Orange (3-1), while Judah Mintz pitched in with 15 points.

Tennessee held a 52-48 lead following a 3-pointer by Mintz with about seven minutes left. The Volunteers then scored the next five points — highlighted by James’ 3-pointer — to extend their lead to nine.

The Orange were still within striking distance at 61-56 with under three minutes left. However, Aidoo scored buckets on back-to-back trips to ignite a game-ending 12-0 run. Aidoo and Zakai Zeigler each scored six points during the decisive surge.

Neither team shot well in the first half. Tennessee shot 32.4 percent from the field and missed half of its 10 free throws. Syracuse connected on just 28.6 percent of its shots in the opening 20 minutes, not to mention a 4-of-10 effort from the foul line.

Knecht led all players with 15 first-half points, including a 3-pointer to forge a 24-24 tie — part of a 9-1 run by the Vols to close the first half with a 30-25 lead.

Tennessee picked up where it left off early in the second half, scoring the first six points on a 3-pointer by James and a three-point play by Aidoo to push the margin to 11.

Shortly thereafter, Bell scored six straight points to help the Orange get within 38-35. The teams stayed relatively close until Tennessee gained plenty of separation down the stretch.