SEC hoops roundup: Opening night about as expected

Tennessee guard Dalton Knecht (3) drives past forward Tobe Awaka (11) and Tennessee Tech guard Grant Strong (11) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Dalton Knecht scored 17 points and No. 9 Tennessee's defense was in midseason form as the Volunteers opened the season by beating Tennessee Tech 80-42 on Monday night.

Knecht, a Northern Colorado grad transfer, scored 14 points in the first half. Josiah-Jordan James added 15 points and Jordan Gainey 11.

The Volunteers shot 46% from the field and 40% from 3-point range.

“College basketball has changed,” said Tennessee Tech coach John Pelphrey, noting that shooting is a priority. “(Tennessee's) shooting ... they're going to be hard to handle.”

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes addressed his team's shooting deficiency a season ago by adding Knecht and Gainey, from USC Upstate.

“When the ball goes in, they make it look pretty,” Barnes said. “All our guys have improved.”

Tennessee Tech was limited to 29% shooting. The Golden Eagles turned over the ball 16 times and had eight shots blocked, four by Jonas Aidoo, who also grabbed eight rebounds.

Josiah Davis led Tennessee Tech with 13 points.

“The way we play defense, we put some teams into some long possessions,” Barnes said. “Then, we want to score quickly. We don't want to give the defense time to get set.”

Santiago Vescovi and Zakai Zeigler, both preseason all-Southeastern Conference selections, saw their first game action this season after missing both exhibitions.

“This was the first time we had all our guys together,” Barnes said.

The Golden Eagles only managed to make 16% of their shots (4 for 25) in the first 20 minutes and trailed 41-12. Tennessee scored 14 straight points while Tennessee Tech went more than four minutes without scoring.

Wildcats open strong at Rupp

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Rob Dillingham scored 17 points, D.J. Wagner had 13 and No. 16 Kentucky shot 59% in the second half to rout New Mexico State 86-46 on Monday night in the season opener for both teams.

Picking up where they left off from winning the GLOBL Jam this summer in Toronto, the Wildcats' touted freshmen took charge after four minutes and helped the team pull away. Wagner and Justin Edwards (12 points) set the tone, and Kentucky native Reed Sheppard finished with 12 points. Dillingham heated up late and went 6 of 11 from the field, including 2 of 6 from long range.

“Robert has two or three, like, ‘What in the world?’ (plays)," Kentucky coach John Calipari said of Dillingham. "As long as it’s not five or six. ... I told him I’m fine with one or two because he can’t help himself, but I tell you that he creates space for himself and his teammates as good as anybody that I’ve coached.”

Fifth-year senior Antonio Reeves, one of Kentucky's few holdovers, and West Virginia transfer Tre Mitchell also were part of the balanced mix. Reeves had 11 points, and Mitchell finished with nine points, nine rebounds and five assists.

The Wildcats closed with a 17-0 run over the final six minutes and 21-2 over the last 6:56.

Jaylin Jackson-Posey and Christian Cook each had 10 points for New Mexico State, which began with first-year coach Jason Hooten and a revamped roster after a tumultuous spring.

NMSU resumed competition for the first time since the university canceled the remainder of last season on Feb. 12 after the filing of a police report alleging gruesome locker-room hazing. Coach Greg Heiar was fired soon after. A former player, Mike Peake, was suspended in connection with a fatal shooting of a student in Albuquerque last Nov. 19 in an unrelated incident but was not charged.

Earlier Monday, two former NMSU players and a student manager filed a lawsuit in district court in Las Cruces, New Mexico, saying teammates frequently brought guns into the locker room where they sexually assaulted players as a way of ensuring everyone on the team remained “humble.”

Hefner leads Aggies

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Hayden Hefner scored a career-high 19 points, Wade Taylor IV had 16 and No. 15 Texas A&M opened the season with a 78-46 win over Texas A&M-Commerce on Monday night.

The Aggies were up by 13 early in the second half when they used a 13-2 run to extend the lead to 55-31 with 15 minutes to go. Taylor scored the first five points in that stretch, and he and Hefner made consecutive 3s to cap the key spurt.

Taylor, the preseason Southeastern Conference Player of the Year, went to the bench for good a couple minutes later with Texas A&M in control. He had six assists and four rebounds in 22 minutes.

“I thought it was the right and best first step and I think a lot of it comes from what we’ve learned the past two weeks,” Texas A&M coach Buzz Williams said.

Taylor made four 3-pointers and Hefner had three, helping the Aggies go 11 for 28 from deep.

Taylor wasn't surprised by Hefner's big game after watching the senior's work in the offseason.

“I felt like today was his coming-out party,” Taylor said.

Hefner is ready to take on a bigger role this season.

“I feel like there’s a lot more that’s going to be asked of me,” he said.

Williams was impressed with Hefner's work Monday night.

“H has had great growth,” Williams said. “He’s done a really good job of hanging in there through his first three years. He’s made great strides in what we want him to do on the glass. I thought he played outstanding.”

Texas A&M-Commerce was led by Jerome Brewer Jr., who had 13 points. Kalen Williams finished with 10.

The Aggies entered this season ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 for the first time since coming in at No. 25 in 2018 in coach Billy Kennedy’s second-to-last season. That season ended with a loss in the regional semifinals of the NCAA tourney.

They’re hoping to take another step in the fifth season under Williams after reaching the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 2018.

Texas A&M-Commerce used an 11-0 spurt to close to 20-18 with about nine minutes left in the first half. But the Aggies went on an 11-4 run, including six points from Hefner, to stretch the lead to 31-22 with five minutes until halftime.

Bama rolls

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Grant Nelson scored 24 points and fellow transfer Aaron Estrada added 16 in impressive Alabama debuts, leading the 24th-ranked Crimson Tide to a 105-73 victory over Morehead State on Monday night in the opener for both teams.

The defending Southeastern Conference champion Crimson Tide rolled to a 24-point lead midway through the first half with an overhauled roster. It was the first time Alabama topped 100 points in an opener since scoring 107 in 2001-02 against Mississippi Valley State.

“I thought it was a great start to the season,” Alabama coach Nate Oats said. “We really jumped on them out of the gate. I was really pleased with where our head was at to start the game.”

Mark Sears, the top returning scorer, had 13 points and five assists. Freshman Jarin Stevenson scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half.

Nelson, a North Dakota State transfer, had seven rebounds and made all eight free throw attempts in his introduction to Alabama fans.

“It’s crazy. I know these guys know what it’s like playing at a mid-major. It’s nothing like this,” said Nelson, flanked by Estrada and Sears, a transfer last year. “The fan base is crazy.”

Riley Minix, a transfer from NAIA Southeastern University, scored 19 to lead Morehead State. Jordan Lathon scored 14 points and Drew Thelwell added 13 for the defending Ohio Valley Conference champions.

“We knew that we were going to be in for a fight tonight and they did an unbelievable job with so many new players,” Eagles coach Preston Stradlin said. “And still able to stick to their identity of how they want to play.”

The Tide are replacing first-round draft picks Brandon Miller and Noah Clowney, along with other key players from a team that won a program-record 31 games and claimed the No. 1 overall NCAA Tournament seed.

Miller watched from the stands with Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne and visited the locker room afterward.

He got to see Sears and his new backcourt mate get off to good starts after point guards Jahvon Quinerly and Jaden Bradley transferred.

“Aaron and Mark kind of got us going early, which is huge,” Oats said. “The backcourt’s going to definitely be a strong suit of ours this year with those two.”

Ducks beat UGA

LAS VEGAS — N'Faly Dante had 16 points and a career-high 21 rebounds and Oregon used several long runs to pull away and beat Georgia 82-71 in the season-opener for both teams on Monday.

The Ducks, quarterfinalists in the NIT last year, only trailed after an opening free throw, using 11-0 and 14-2 runs to lead 25-10. It was 40-30 at halftime and a 9-0 burst, featuring five points by Brennan Rigsby, helped put the game away at making it 63-46. The Ducks led by as many as 20, at 67-47.

The Bulldogs got within 78-68 on Jabri Abdur-Rahim's 3-pointer with 1:56 to go. Another 3 by Blue Cain with 1:04 left made it 79-71, but the Ducks held on.

Rigsby also scored 16 and Jermaine Couisnard added 14 points for the Ducks. Kario Oquendo, who started 59 of 60 games for Georgia the past two seasons before transferring, scored seven for Oregon.

Adbur-Rahim led the Bulldogs with 18 points and Cain and RJ Melendez had 12 apiece.

Georgia improved by 10 wins, from six to 16, last year in coach Mike White’s first season — the second-biggest increase in regular-season wins by any Power 5 program.

Mizzou routs UAPB

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Sean East II scored 21 points and Missouri breezed to a 101-79 victory over Arkansas-Pine Bluff in a season opener on Monday night.

East sank 7 of 8 shots with two 3-pointers and was 5-for-5 at the free-throw line for the Tigers. Nick Honor and reserve Tamar Bates both scored 18. Bates made 7 of 9 shots, including all three of his 3-pointers. Caleb Grill and Noah Carter added 15 points apiece. Grill had seven rebounds.

It was a two-man show for the Golden Lions. Kylen Milton scored 34 points, sinking 8 of 10 shots — with three 3s — and 15 of 20 foul shots. Joe French scored 30, but he made just 10 of 27 shots, 4 of 14 from distance.

Missouri is coming off a 25-10 record in its first season under coach Dennis Gates. The Tigers went 11-7 in the Southeastern Conference, finishing fourth, and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Tigers are 6-0 all-time against the Golden Lions with all six games played in Missouri. The teams last played in 2015 when Missouri posted a 78-25 victory. It's the fewest points allowed by the Tigers since 1947.

UAPB went 10-21 last season and finished ninth in the Southwestern Athletic Conference.

Gamecock transfers make impact

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Meechie Johnson and Ta'Lon Cooper each scored 15 points and South Carolina beat South Carolina Upstate 82-53 in a season opener on Monday night.

B.J. Mack added 13 points and Myles Stute had 10 for South Carolina.

Justin Bailey scored 13 points and Trae Broadnax added 10 for SC Upstate.

Bailey's 3-pointer almost 3 1/2 minutes in gave SC Upstate its only lead of the game at 5-3. South Carolina led 42-28 at halftime and outscored the Spartans 40-25 after intermission.

South Carolina leads the overall series 8-1, including 4-1 in Columbia. The 29-point win nearly doubles the previous average of 15.4 points per game for margin of victory the Gamecocks have over SC Upstate.

South Carolina's four transfers (Cooper, Mack, Stute and Stephen Clark) entered having played a combined 430 games at the Division I level with 299 starts among them. The entire team’s 480 combined Division I starts ranks third in the Southeastern Conference behind only Mississippi State (514) and Texas A&M (502) entering this season.

Other Final Scores

Ole Miss 69, Alabama State 59

LSU 106, Mississippi Valley State 60

Florida 93, Loyola (Md.) 73

Wednesday's Games

All Times Central

Auburn vs. Baylor (in Sioux Falls, S.D.), 8 p.m., ESPN

Presbyterian at Vanderbilt, 7 p.m., SEC Network+/ESPN+