No March Madness magic for Saint Peter’s this time in blowout loss to Tennessee

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Two years ago, Saint Peter’s lived out a dream in the NCAA Tournament.

Two years removed from that magical run to the Elite Eight as a No. 15 seed, Saint Peter’s lived out a nightmare on Thursday night on the opening round of the NCAAs in the form of an 83-49 thrashing at the hands of Tennessee, the No. 2 seed in the Midwest Region, at the Spectrum Center.

The No. 15 seeded Peacocks were never in the game against a far superior Volunteers team that advanced to Saturday’s second round against Texas.

Volunteers’ big man Jonas Aidoo dunks over Mouhamed Sow during Saint Peter’s 83-49 blowout loss to Tennessee in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Latrell Reid, who led Saint Peter’s with 17 points, shoots over Jahmai Mashack during the Peacocks’ loss. Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The first half was an unimaginable disaster for Saint Peter’s, which won the MAAC Tournament title to get here. St. Peter’s trailed 46-20, and that was only thanks to a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Roy Clarke to “shave’’ the Tennessee lead to “only’’ 26 points at the intermission.

Tennessee’s largest first-half lead was 29 points, right before that Clarke trey at the end of the period.

Saint Peter’s (19-14) shot 7-for-30 from the field (23.3 percent) in the first half and was 4-for-15 from long distance (26.7 percent). The Peacocks couldn’t even make free throws, shooting just 2 of 7 from the line.

Meanwhile, Tennessee (25-8) shot 16-for-25 from the floor (64 percent) and was 4-for-9 from 3-point range.

The Vols outrebounded Saint Peter’s 25-11 in the first half and finished with a 47-21 advantage on the boards.

Three Saint Peter’s starters failed to score a single point in the first 20 minutes.

Corey Washington, who entered the game averaging a team-high 16.5 points per game, was 0-for-5 from the field en route to his donut and finished with just two points on 1-for-9 shooting.

Michael Houge, who averaged 8.5 points per game, finished 1-for-8 from the field. And Mouhamed Sow was 1-for-5.

The only player who performed at all for Saint Peter’s was senior guard Latrell Reid, the only player remaining from the Elite Eight team. He scored nine first-half points — almost half of the Peacocks’ production — and finished with a team-high 17.

Corey Washington, who was held to two points, drives on Zakai Zeigler during Saint Peter’s loss. Getty Images

Saint Peter’s entered the game offensively challenged, as one of the lowest offensive production teams in the country, one that relies heavily on its tenacious defense. But this kind of anemic production was stunning.

It, too, must be credited to the Tennessee defense, which absolutely suffocated the smaller Peacocks.

Saint Peter’s coach Bashir Mason had a premonition about the Tennessee defense being a problem.

“I’ve been telling my team we’re probably a version of them in terms of how we defend, how we rebound, but they’ve probably got a couple of NBA players on their team,’’ Mason said. “Size, athleticism … everything is a little bit different.’’

Mason, too, was concerned about Tennessee’s 6-foot-6 guard Dalton Knecht, who entered the game averaging 21.1 points a game to lead the Vols.

Knecht scored 13 points in the first half and finished with a game-high 23.

J.P. Estrella slams home a dunk during Tennessee’s blowout win over Saint Peter’s. Getty Images

“We haven’t played against a guy like him,’’ Mason said before the game. “It will be the ultimate test for us.’’

Tennessee’s 6-11 forward Jonas Aidoo was a big problem for the Peacocks — pun very much intended. They had no answer for him as he scored 13 points in the first half on 5-for-6 shooting and finished with 15 and six rebounds.

Saint Peter’s entered the game having allowed just seven opponents to score 70 or more points and was 1-6 in those games. Tennessee eclipsed the 70-point mark with seven minutes remaining.

Reid, before the game, talked about how Saint Peter’s “definitely took everybody by surprise’’ two years ago.

“We still play the same way — team effort, hard-nosed defense, grinding teams out — so, I don’t think anybody’s going to take us as a joke,’’ Reid said. “We know that. We still think we can compete with anybody.’’

Listening to Tennessee coach Rick Barnes before the game, it was clear St. Peter’s had his undivided attention.

“I can tell you as a coaching staff, we’ve let our guys know right here how good of an opponent we’re playing at St. Peter’s,’’ Barnes said. “They’re a tough-minded team that they know how they play, they know what they do.’’

On this nightmarish evening, though, Saint Peter’s looked like a team that had no idea what to do. And so, there would be no recapturing of any magic from two years prior.

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