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Dalton Knecht's huge day can't quite carry Tennessee past Zach Edey and Purdue

DETROIT (AP) — Dalton Knecht was dazzling for much of the day, looking like the prospect who's being projected as an NBA lottery pick.

Tennessee leaned on the All-America wing even more than usual, with a Final Four bid at stake, and he delivered more than he didn't against Purdue on Sunday.

Knecht, though, may have run out of gas in the Motor City.

He missed a 3-pointer with an opportunity to tie the game with 3:09 left and missed again from beyond the arc less than a minute later as the top-seeded Boilermakers pulled away for a 72-66 win over the second-seeded Volunteers.

Knecht finished with 37 points on 14-of-31 shooting, making half of his 12 attempts from deep and 3 of 4 free throws.

“I don’t think I put the team on my back,” he said. “I think all of us carried each other. ... At the end of the day, they were just the better team.”

To seal the win, All-America center Zach Edey blocked Knecht’s layup as the Northern Colorado transfer and former junior college player drove to the basket with Tennessee down five and 33 seconds remaining.

Tennessee (27-9) matched the longest NCAA Tournament run in school history and fell a win short of its first trip to the Final Four, just as 2010 team did in a one-point loss to Michigan State. Rick Barnes, the Vols' 69-year-old coach, came up just short of his second appearance in college basketball’s season-ending showcase and first since leading Texas to the national semifinals in 2003.

Barnes' team might be one of the four best in the country, but its season is over.

“There's no doubt in my mind that we thought we had a team that could win the national championship, and I still believe that,” Barnes said. “But we ran up against a team that’s going to get ready to have a chance to play on Monday.”

While Knecht's late misses hurt his team's comeback hopes, his supporting cast, especially a pair of players who averaged nearly 12 points a game, struggled offensively.

Jonas Aidoo was held scoreless on 0-for-4 shooting and Zakai Zeigler missed 9 of 12 shots and scored nine points.

“Jonas had a tough day and no one hurts more than he does," Barnes said.

While Zeigler was off his game, the junior point guard was credited by his coach for what he's done during his career for the Vols.

“No one’s changed our program more than Zakai Zeigler,” said Barnes, who went 15-19 during his debut season with the Vols eight years ago. “His DNA has changed everything.”

Knecht's talent, without a doubt, altered the trajectory of this season.

Only Edey received more All-America votes than Knecht, who became the first former junior college player to be recognized as one of country's five best since UNLV's Larry Johnson in 1991.

“Dalton coming in and having just a year, just out of nowhere,” Barnes said. “Nobody expected it.”

Knecht was fully aware of what Purdue would try to do to him because he faced Matt Painter's team four months ago in a loss at the Maui Invitational, where he was held to three points in the second half and finished with 16.

“I don’t think they realized quite what they had at that point, even though he was a really good player and played well in that game,” Painter said. “He’s a consensus first team All-American.

"He’s probably going to be in the end of the lottery.”

The Boilermakers sent waves of players at the 6-foot-6 Knecht in the Midwest Region final, putting three defenders on him in the opening minutes and keeping him guessing all game about who would be chasing him off screens and closing out.

Yet Knecht efficiently scored 18 points in the first half by making half his shots and 4 of 5 beyond the arc.

He made seven shots in each half, but after halftime he missed 5 of 7 3-pointers — and Barnes said Purdue's defense didn't have much to do with that.

“They're not going to affect him on his 3s,” Barnes said. “I haven’t seen anybody really all year affect him too much when he’s out there.

"If anything, it was the fact that a lot seemed to be put on him because we weren’t getting the balance that we’d like to have. He had some looks, and they just didn’t go down for him.”

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Follow Larry Lage at https://twitter.com/larrylage

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AP March Madness bracket: https://apnews.com/hub/ncaa-mens-bracket and coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness