Vols hand Syracuse its first-ever loss at the Maui Invitational

Tennessee Athletics photo / Dalton Knecht scored a game-high 17 points to lead Tennessee past Syracuse 73-56 in Monday's opening round of the Allstate Maui Invitational.

The Syracuse Orange entered this week's Allstate Maui Invitational as the only college basketball program never to lose a game at the prestigious three-day event.

Tennessee changed that Monday afternoon.

Josiah-Jordan James and Jonas Aidoo tallied double-doubles for the No. 7 Volunteers, who scored the game's final 12 points to bury the Orange 73-56. Tennessee held Syracuse to 35.0% shooting and outrebounded the Orange 48-33 in improving to 4-0 heading into Tuesday night's showdown against No. 2 Purdue, which advanced with a 73-63 topping of No. 11 Gonzaga.

"I'm really proud of our older group at the end," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said in a news conference. "We have guys who have been in a lot of big games, and I thought Josiah was terrific. Our older guys were locked in defensively and did a lot of good things for us.

"We know we can be better on offense, but I thought we kept our composure through some tough situations. This was a really nice win for us."

Syracuse, which won the Maui Invitational in 1990, 1998 and 2013, lost for the first time in four games under first-year coach Adrian Autry. The Orange had been coached by Jim Boeheim from the 1976-77 season until last season, with Boeheim's first team knocking Tennessee out of the 1977 NCAA tournament in the final contest of the Ray Mears era.

Dalton Knecht scored 15 of Tennessee's 30 first-half points and finished with a game-high 17. The transfer from Northern Colorado missed nearly eight minutes of the second half due to cramping.

James amassed 15 points and 12 rebounds, while Aidoo added 14 points and 12 boards. In the 34 minutes in which James played, the Vols outscored the Orange by a staggering 28 points.

"I would definitely say that we were ready," James said. "If you watched us practice, you would know that we're more than prepared for that type of game and that type of physicality. I was proud of our guys and the way we handled it."

Said Aidoo: "If we rebound the ball, we're pretty much going to win the game. We've got to be aggressive at all times."

Within the game's first five minutes, Tennessee fell behind for the first time all season — exhibition games included — and Vols sophomore forward Tobe Awaka exited with a right ankle injury and never returned. Yet things weren't great for the Orange, either, as leading scorer Judah Mintz picked up two quick fouls.

Mintz entered Monday averaging 23 points and five assists, but he was held to 15 points on 4-of-14 shooting and two assists.

"We've won a lot of games through the years with our defense," Barnes said. "It doesn't always make it look pretty, but we've done it. We have some guys who take great pride in guarding one-on-one, and we rely on each other. We're not asking one guy to stop one guy, and if we play together, we think we can make it tough for people to score."

Syracuse built a 19-11 lead just before the midway mark of the first half, but Tennessee closed on a 19-6 run and took a 30-25 lead at intermission. The Vols then scored six points during the first 75 seconds of the second half to build a 36-25 advantage.

The Orange would pull within three on multiple occasions before Tennessee's closing surge.

"These games are going to help us all some way and somehow," Barnes said. "We were careless with some of our turnovers, but we really rebounded the ball."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com.