Santiago Vescovi faked a shot then he faked a pass, sending the Syracuse defense skedaddling in all the wrong directions.
The Tennessee basketball guard spied Jahmai Mashack darting to the rim and got him for a layup. Vescovi was in complete control against Syracuse, dictating where the other nine players on the court were headed. Josiah-Jordan James was in elite form in tandem with Vescovi.
The fifth-year senior duo rose for the No. 8 Vols on Monday in their opener in the Maui Invitational in a stellar second-half stretch while leading scorer Dalton Knecht was sidelined with cramps.
Tennessee (4-0) topped Syracuse (3-1) in a 73-56 win at SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu, advancing to the Maui Invitational semifinals.
Knecht led UT with 17 points. James had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Jonas Aidoo also had a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Vescovi had six points, five assists and five rebounds.
Dalton Knecht put on a show in Maui
Knecht carried Tennessee offensively in the first half, scoring 15 of Tennessee’s 30 points. He was 3-for-4 shooting on 3-pointers.
He went down with a right calf cramp on a missed layup with 10:32 to play. He left the game with 10:20 remaining and did not return until the 2:24 mark. UT led 63-56 when he returned. It led 42-39 when he left the game.
Mashack scored six straight points for the Vols soon after Knecht went out. He made two free throws and a layup after Vescovi’s terrific find.
Tennessee closed both halves tremendously
Tennessee closed the first half on a 9-1 run after falling behind by as many as eight in the first half. The Vols were even better at the end of the game, scoring the final 12 points.
Syracuse got within five points, trailing 61-56. Aidoo and Zakai Zeigler dominated the final 3:14. Aidoo dunked, then hit a jumper. Zeigler had a steal and open-court layup then four straight free throws. Zeigler tossed an alley-oop to Aidoo to cap the game in the final seconds.
Tobe Awaka left with an ankle injury early
Tobe Awaka hurt his ankle in the opening minutes. The sophomore forward limped off the court and left the game at the 17:36 mark and did not return. He had a rebound and missed a field-goal attempt in his lone minute.
Awaka was averaging 5.0 points and 5.0 points in 11.7 minutes per game.
J.P. Estrella’s first-half minutes were major
J.P. Estrella had played 10 minutes this season entering Monday. He played nine in the first half, stepping in and stepping up without Awaka. He grabbed three offensive rebounds and made a pair of free throws.
He also had a dandy of an assist, stopping in transition to let two defenders fly by him then passing to Knecht for a 3-pointer.
The Vols face the winner of No. 2 Purdue and No. 11 Gonzaga on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it