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Hubbs Bounces Back, Leads Tennessee to “Must Win” over Ole Miss

Photo Credit: Nick Davis/RTI

Robert Hubbs thought he may have had the flu on Wednesday morning before Tennessee’s game against Ole Miss.

But Hubbs’ performance against the Rebels was sick…in a good way.

“Now I’m back to myself, my body is feeling good and I think it showed tonight. ” Hubbs said.

Tennessee (14-10, 6-5 SEC) corrected its mistakes from a tough loss at Mississippi State on Saturday, defeating Ole Miss (14-10, 5-6 SEC) by a final score of 75-66.

“We won a game against a team that I have as much respect for as anyone in the league,” Rick Barnes said after the game.

Barnes’ team faced adversity for most of the first 30 minutes. In fact, Tennessee didn’t grab the lead at all in the second half until the 2:08 mark, when Robert Hubbs’ layup gave UT a 66-64 advantage.

“We just have to stick to our game-plan and stay poised…we did that and made big time plays,” Hubbs said.

Many of those big time plays for Hubbs came at the free throw line. After not attempting a shot at the line against Mississippi State, the senior was 8-of-10 against the Rebels.

“It was frustrating last Saturday not to get to the line at all. I just have to stay in attack mode and just knock down our free throws.”

UT was 8-for-8 from the foul line in the first half, but went 17-of-27 in the second. Tennessee only missed three foul shots in the final ten minutes of the game.

After giving up a 19-point lead in Starkville last time out, Rick Barnes was proud of his team’s ability to finish against Ole Miss.

“It’s February. Every game is going to be a grind. If you expect to be a good team that finishes the season well, you’re going to have to be able to find ways when it’s not going for you…the difference late was our defense.”

Another big part of Tennessee’s comeback in the second half was Jordan Bowden. The freshman made two big 3s in the second half, including this one as the shot clock wound down.

Barnes pointed to Bowden’s late 3 as a crucial point in the game.

“It was big, because they’ve got some guys who can raise up on you,” Barnes said. “We were looking to do something with Grant (Williams) and Robert (Hubbs) across the baseline, but Lew (Evans) waited and gave it to Lamonté (Turner) who made a terriffic play. That’s as big a play as there was in the game for us.”

Williams Comes Alive Late

Grant Williams took over the basketball game for Tennessee in the final minutes, but Rick Barnes is still expecting more from his freshman forward.

“Grant still makes too many mistakes,” Barnes said. “He missed two rim shots. These guys are still going through some things for the first time. They’ve never been in this situation in February…he’s still young-minded when his offense isn’t going well and he lets it affect him on the other end.”

Williams had 18 points, with 14 coming in the second half. The freshman has started to make a habit of catching fire in the second half, and doesn’t know why.

“I have no clue. I need to do it the whole 40 minutes. If I can find out what I did in the second half, and just know how hard I have to play every night I know I can be a much better player.”

His coach, on the other hand, has a pretty good idea.

“He still doesn’t have an appreciation for how hard it is to be a high level player every single night. It goes with preparation every day in practice,” Barnes said.

With 9:08 to go in the second half, Williams picked up his third foul. Despite that foul trouble, Williams scored eight points in the final nine minutes of the game. He also tallied four blocks in the second half alone, including three in the final 1:22.

Williams said it was tough playing with those fouls, but that foul trouble goes out the window in the final minute of the game.

“It’s difficult mentally when there’s six minutes left because you’re worried about getting that fourth,” Williams said. “In the last minute I thought I had zero fouls, because I was just going to be aggressive.”

Same Story, Different Teams

Tennessee’s first game against Ole Miss was a 80-69 loss where the Vols were outscored 41-17 in the final 15 minutes of the game.

In the last 3:56 minutes on Wednesday, Tennessee outscored the Rebels 15-2. Ole Miss didn’t make a field goal during that stretch.

Williams said he wasn’t focused on revenge.

“I don’t really get into redemption because every game matters. Confidence booster, yes, but we just have to maintain and keep going because every game is a key game.”

In the first game against the Rebels, Hubbs had two points in the second half. He had ten in the second half on Wednesday.

“We knew they out-toughed us last game…this was a must-win for us, so we had to come out and do everything right. We won the game in the last four minutes,” Hubbs added.

Ole Miss made 27 free throws in its win over UT back on January 18th. On Wednesday, UT hit 25 shots from the foul line.

Moving forward, Tennessee faces another crucial game at home on Saturday against Georgia. If you ask Grant Williams, tourney talk is still not an option at this point.

“I’m just focused on Georgia.”

The Vols will face the Bulldogs at 2 p.m. on SEC Network.

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