The little engine that makes Tennessee basketball go suddenly stopped going.
Less than three minutes into Tuesday night's game against visiting Arkansas, sophomore point guard Zakai Zeigler landed awkwardly on his left knee and crumpled to the floor. The sold-out crowd of 21,678 inside Thompson-Boling Arena went silent as fans realized their beloved 5-foot-9 quarterback and defensive menace could be lost for the season.
The No. 12 Volunteers would overcome the solemn start to demolish the Razorbacks 75-57, but Zeigler's injury soured what should have been a festive evening given that seniors Josiah-Jordan James, Tyreke Key, Olivier Nkamhoua, Uros Plavsic and Santiago Vescovi were honored before the opening tip.
"This is going to make other guys do some things they haven't done a lot of," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said on the ESPN2 broadcast. "That's what it really gets down to, but we've gone through so much adversity the last couple of weeks with injuries. Whoever has got to go do something is going to do it, and we'll find a way to get through it."
Zeigler entered Tuesday leading the Southeastern Conference with 5.5 assists per game while ranking third in steals with 2.0 per contest.
Tennessee led 4-0 when Zeigler went down and never trailed, grabbing a 24-15 advantage on a Jonas Aidoo dunk with 5:17 remaining in the first half and extending it to 32-22 on a Vescovi 3-pointer with 2:29 before halftime. The Vols led 34-25 at the break, and another Vescovi 3-pointer less than two minutes into the second half put Tennessee up 39-27.
A James jumper with 9:31 left made it 56-39.
Nkamhoua scored 16 and Vescovi 14 for the Vols (22-8, 11-6), while Anthony Black and Davonte Davis scored 13 apiece to lead the Razorbacks (19-11, 8-9).
"With what happened with Zakai, you could just feel that something wasn't good, but I'm really proud of our guys," Barnes said. "I thought they really fought. We put some guys out there who haven't practiced very much together lately."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org.