Tennessee guard Zakai Zeigler lays on the floor as a trainer come to check him after being injured during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Arkansas, Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Volunteers Overpower Hogs Despite Zeigler’s Early Injury

Coming off a tough 86-83 loss against No. 2 Alabama, the Arkansas men’s basketball team traveled to Knoxville hoping to bounce back. Instead, they tied their season low with 57 points as the Volunteers served them an 18-point rout.

Volunteers: Z’s Injury

Despite the gravity of this conference win for the Vols, it will undoubtedly be bittersweet.

Zakai Zeigler is one of the leaders of the Tennessee team, both on and off the court.

“I don’t think there’s anybody in the nation that can replace Zakai and what he brings to the table outside of just assists, shooting,” said sophomore guard Jahmai Mashack postgame. “I think it’s energy. It’s irreplaceable.”

Zeigler was cutting along the baseline to the hoop in the first three minutes of the game when his left knee buckled. He collapsed to the ground in visible pain, and the normally-boisterous Thompson-Boling Arena fell to a whisper.

Head coach Rick Barnes talked about the situation postgame.

“[His teammates] know that he pops right back every single time when he goes down,” said Barnes. “I think they knew it was serious.”

There were not any specific updates given, other than that Zeigler will undergo a scan to determine his condition.

Tennessee fans and players will be holding their breath while Zeigler is evaluated.

Bodied in the Paint

Although it is difficult to regain composure after a severe injury, the Vols appeared to band together and play for Z.

Tennessee was not very impressive from deep or from the free throw line, but they still ended the game shooting 50% from the field. Finnish forward Olivier Nkamhoua spearheaded the efficient shooting, dropping a team-leading 16 points on 12 shots from the field.

Of Tennessee’s 75 points, 42 were scored in the paint. Efficient shooting becomes a lot easier when the majority of your shots are coming from within 15 feet of the basket.

It was clear there was a discrepancy in physicality. The Razorbacks had an abysmal 18 points in the paint — eight less than their previous low in SEC play.

Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman expressed his displeasure with his players being pushed around postgame.

“[Tennessee] completely out-physicaled us,” Musselman said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Looking Forward

The Vols have a few days to rest before their final game of the regular season. They have a date with the Auburn Tigers — a team they narrowly defeated in February — on March 4.

The Hogs are working with a similar timeline. They also play on March 4 against a vengeful Kentucky team that is currently ranked No. 23 in the nation.

About Steven Hieneman

Senior Sports Media/Business Administration dual major at the University of Florida, ESPN Gainesville WRUF sports correspondent.

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