The Vols came out firing in Oxford, building a 16-4 lead in the first six minutes behind four three-pointers. The lead swelled to 29-9, and was still 15 points at halftime.
But the first three minutes of the second half were unkind to Tennessee…or, more appropriately, Tennessee wasn’t kind to itself. Four turnovers in those first three minutes sparked an 11-0 Rebel run, cutting the lead to four.
Tennessee’s defense righted the ship, holding the Rebels scoreless for the next four minutes while the Vols built the lead back to nine. UT would eventually push it to 21, was still up 14 with two minutes to play, and won by eight. The Vols led by double digits for almost 30 minutes. There were only a few truly uncomfortable moments.
What can Tennessee learn from those moments? I think sometimes the offense seems to get stuck in the space between feeding the ball and forcing the ball to Grant Williams. Tennessee’s best basketball plays through #2, and at times the Vols can get him the ball cleanly and let him do his thing (as was the case against Florida). At other times defenses swarm and deny him the ball, and the Vols can clearly fall back on good looks this creates. But when the defense doesn’t show its hand, occasionally the Vols learn the hard way not to force the issue. Many of Tennessee’s turnovers come from ill-advised passes into the post.
The Vols adjusted; again, credit the defense first for stopping the bleeding before the offense got its footing. And credit Admiral Schofield, who gets much of his offense outside the go inside to Grant/kick it out for three routine. Today he had a career-high 25 points on 9-of-14 shooting, along with seven rebounds. While Williams struggled with just six points on the day, Schofield proved the Vols can still win comfortably. Tennessee also got big minutes from Derrick Walker coming back from an ankle injury; he finished with five points and seven rebounds. Walker got some of Kyle Alexander’s duties today, posting up in similar fashion to Williams and executing well.
Ole Miss helped by shooting 1-of-23 from the arc. But despite their struggles early in the second half, Tennessee still finished with 20 assists on 25 made baskets, the fifth time this season the Vols had an assist percentage of 80% or better (and the second time against the Rebels).
The Vols go to 21-7 (11-5), and could lock up a double bye in the SEC Tournament by the end of the day. It’s the best regular season win total since 2010, and they can tie that Elite Eight squad at 23-7 with a pair of wins next week.