ORLANDO, Fla. — Jahmai Mashack sat under the hoop at the Amway Center Thursday, tongue hanging out and the smile starting.
The Tennessee basketball guard had made another crucial game for the Vols, each of whom needed their team, on a night riddled with his highlights. The sophomore year was the spark plug and boost needed by No. 4 Tennessee (24-10) to outlast No. 13-seeded Louisiana (26-8) 58-55 and on Saturday against No. 5 Duke ( 26-8) to compete (2:40 p.m. ET, CBS).
“He feels comfortable on the pitch,” said striker Jonas Aidoo. “You can see it out there. He grows every day. Every time we enter the square. I’m really proud of him. We’re comfortable with him handling the ball and playing for us now.”
He made mid-range jumps at key moments, drilled key free throws, and was his usual defensive self. But which piece was his best? His teammates disagreed.
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DEADLY: Santiago Vescovi is an off-ball magician. In the mind of the Tennessee basketball guard.
Santiago Vescovi, Uros Plavsic and Jonas Aidoo all voted for late game free throws
Mashack made a jump after Louisiana drew within five with 5:31 to play. He responded hard to the following possession, made contact and drew a foul.
This was the game that Santiago Vescovi, Uros Plavsic and Aidoo chose for the drive and subsequent free throws.
“It was a great game,” said Vescovi. “Great momentum for us.”
Plavsic: “That was a really strong move by him and set the tone.”
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Mashack was 3-for-4 at the free throw line against Louisiana. He made it 1-for-2 with 2:24 to go to extend UT’s lead to seven.
“He struggled a bit with it at the beginning of the year,” said Aidoo. “It’s something he’s proud of and working on. I’m proud of him for putting those down.”
Tobe Awaka joined the defense of Jahmai Mashack
Mashack had two straight steals in the first half and then helped force a third. All of these games were within a two minute window.
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The story goes on
“I just liked his aggressiveness on the ball early in the game,” said forward Tobe Awaka. “(Louisiana guard Themus Fulks) was a pretty important part of their team. Instead of being the engine, Jahmai got on the ball and disrupted his passing game.”
One of Mashack’s steals resulted in a transition layup, his first of four field goals.
Josiah-Jordan James, Olivier Nkamhoua pointed out Jahmai Mashack’s midrange jumper
Tennessee was stuck in a first-half drought and Vescovi was in dire trouble. Mashack changed that after Louisiana tied the game 19-19.
He hit a midrange jumper to give UT a two-point lead. Then he hit another for a six-point lead.
“I loved his one-dribbling pull-ups,” said forward Olivier Nkamhoua. “I love that he’s coming into his spots. He gets into places where he’s really comfortable.”
Mashack hit his last jumper in the second half after Louisiana cut UT’s lead to five for the second time.
“When I see him getting to his seats and towering over a defender then I know he’s locked in and when he’s taking those shots he’s really difficult to guard,” said guard Josiah-Jordan James. “He’s so good at coming downhill that he’s tough when he’s doing his pull-ups.”
Mike Wilson reports on the University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @By Mike Wilson. If you enjoy Mike’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that gives you access to everything.
This article originally appeared on the Knoxville News Sentinel: Jahmai Mashack drives basketball from Tennessee past Louisiana to Duke