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Three Quick Takeaways: Tennessee Outlasts Ole Miss In SEC Tournament

Photo via Tennessee Athletics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Josiah-Jordan James drilled a triple to give Tennessee a six-point lead as the first half expired. It was Tennessee’s largest lead of the game at the time and it created the separation the Vols’ needed.

After a neck-and-neck first half, Tennessee quickly pushed its lead to double-digits early in the second half and kept the Rebels at an arms length from there, earning a 70-55 victory.

Here’s three quick takeaways as Tennessee advances to the SEC Tournament Quarterfinals.

A Tale Of Two Halves For Tennessee’s Defense

It was a tale of two halves for Tennessee’s defense against Ole Miss. Well, really it was a tale of the first 15 and final 35 minutes of the game.

Ole Miss scored 31 points in the game’s first 15 minutes largely due to some red-hot three-point shooting. The Rebels started four-of-four from deep before cooling off to five-of-11 in the first half.

But even when Ole Miss’ scorching shooting ended they still had offensive success. The Vols struggled to stop Ole Miss dribble drive offense and the Rebels also capitalized on some poor transition defense.

Tennessee went to a two-three zone late in the first half and Ole Miss made just one more basket the rest of the first half.

The Vols went back to man defense in the second half but they had already flipped the script. Tennessee played much better defense in the second half and held the Rebels to just xx second half points.

In the first half, Ole Miss shot 41% while scoring 1.100 points per possession. In the second half, Ole Miss shot only 33% from the field while scoring .786 points per possession.

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Carless Turnovers Cost Tennessee

Tennessee’s offense continued to have success in the absence of Zakai Zeigler against Ole Miss. However, Zeigler’s absence was felt with the way Tennessee handled the Rebels’ ball pressure.

Ole Miss’ identity is playing strong defense that they often extend. It game Tennessee issues as the Vols turned it over 14 times. While the 14 turnovers weren’t anything crazy bad, they were often live ball turnovers that led to easy Ole Miss points.

The Rebels scored 19 points off Tennessee’s turnovers and combine to the Vols scoring nine points off of just seven Ole Miss turnovers, the underdogs earned a large advantage there.

No one player turned it over excessively but there were turnovers well distributed across the board with four players turning it over multiple times and Jahmai Mashack leading the way with four turnovers.

Tennessee was strong in the turnover differential this season with Zeigler on the court. Let’s see if that flips down the stretch. It certainly did against the Rebels.

Tennessee’s Seniors Lead The Way

The Vols are looking to figure things out this week in Nashville with Zakai Zeigler. Their seniors, who are also their top players, performing well would go a long way to making Tennessee a formidable out in the NCAA Tournament.

It starts with Santiago Vescovi. Interim Ole Miss coach Win Case said stopping Vescovi was the key for the Rebels against Tennessee.

Shouldering the bulk of the load running Tennessee’s offense, Vescovi made shots and got his teammates open as Ole Miss hedged extremely hard on off and on ball screens trying to keep Vescovi from getting a good look. The All-SEC selection totaled 15 points, six rebounds and three assists in another strong performance.

Forward Olivier Nkamhoua is the least consistent of the bunch but added help on offense, scoring seven first half points on his way to nine for the game.

When Tennessee went to a two-three zone defense that changed the game late in the first half, Nkamhoua was fantastic anchoring it denying a number of Ole Miss alley oop attempts. Rick Barnes is going to want to see more than two rebounds from Nkamhoua but the Finland native did tally four assists in a strong game.

Vescovi and Nkamhoua played well but Josiah-Jordan James was the true star of the game.

James drilled a three-pointer on the first possession of the game and as the game clock expired in the first half. The senior forward was knocking down shots at a high level on his way to a game-high 20 points on six-of-13 shooting from the field and a game-high seven rebounds.

Tennessee’s seniors must step up if the Vols are going to make a run in the postseason. One game in, they passed that test.

Final Stats

Up Next

Tennessee advances to the SEC Tournament Quarterfinals where they’ll face Missouri at approximately 3:30 p.m. ET Friday.

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