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What Ole Miss HC Chris Beard Said About Tennessee After Suffering First Defeat

Photo by Hannah Morgan White/Ole Miss Athletics

Tennessee basketball handed No. 22 Ole Miss its first loss of the season on Saturday evening, dominating the Rebels 90-64 in Knoxville.

After the loss, Ole Miss coach Chris Beard discussed what makes this Tennessee team so good and why they gave the Rebels so many issues in the lopsided contest.

Here’s what Beard said about Tennessee after the game.

More From RTI: Watch Rick Barnes Discuss Tennessee’s Win Over Ole Miss
Opening Statement
“(Want to) congratulate Coach Barnes, Tennessee. Me personally, this is my first SEC game. I was very impressed with the crowd. It’s a great, great basketball venue. Super impressed with everything about this place. So obviously for us, the basketball game, I’ll start by saying this Tennessee team is really good. I don’t know Coach Barnes would agree with this, but I think they’re a Final Four contender.
“They have experience, size, great point guard play. They have an identity, that’s their defense and rebounding. And offensively, they just have a lot of weapons. They can play a lot of different ways. So really, really impressed with them. You’re literally looking at a team one basket away from beating, what, Kansas and Purdue and we’re sitting here today, they’re probably the No. 1 team in the country.
“So super impressed with Tennessee. (Want to) congratulate Coach Barnes on a good SEC-opening win — 18-round fight. And they definitely handled us. From our perspective, really the tale of two halves. I think in the first half we let a 3-point shooter get away from us right there at the buzzer. If that doesn’t happen, then I think it’s what, 37-31 at halftime. And we’re holding our own in the rebounding. I think they’re up plus-five or plus-six at half. So I thought we played well in spurts in the first half just with our physical rebounding, our toughness. Against one of the best teams in the country to be down a couple baskets at halftime. There’s a lot of good there.
“Second half, from our perspective, complete different side of the coin and give Tennessee all the credit. They were more physical than us, more competitive than us. They executed a lot better than we did. Really just kicked us in the second half. You guys saw it. So tale of the two halves. A lot of respect for Tennessee. There’s no doubt about it, in my opinion, that’s one of the best teams in college basketball.”

On what makes Tennessee so good defensively

“I think it starts just with Coach (Barnes) and that’s their identity. Coach Barnes teams have always been like that. You’ve got five players playing for Tennessee. And nobody takes a play off. There’s not a weak link defensively. There might be a guy that maybe is not as quick as athletic as the next guy, but their effort is on point. There are five guys playing team basketball on defense and that’s not just tonight’s game. That’s all season long. They did that in the first 13 games of the season, too. So definitely one of the best defensive teams in college basketball. Great ball pressure from their guards. They have rim protection with their two bigs and they have what we call positionless players that can switch a lot of things. So I was really impressed with the defense.”

On his comments on Tennessee’s Thompson-Boling Arena, if the crowd noise bothered Ole Miss 
“Oh, no doubt about it. There’s some times in the game where we couldn’t communicate like we normally do through the avenues that we like, which is communication. We were prepared, we had some nonverbals and stuff. But I thought it was a great basketball crowd. They could feel the game. I think they helped the team get in some runs and then obviously kind of pound us early. I thought the crowd really stepped up, but we’re still hanging around 14, 15 points. We’re in the game. There’s a couple of spurts there, where I think the crowd definitely impacted the game.”

On what he’s seen from Zakai Zeigler in the two years since Tennessee played at Texas

“A lot of respect for him. The worst thing, by far in in team sport, is when a guy goes down. I don’t wish that for anybody, period. Not just our team, but any team. A lot of respect for him. I know a little bit about his story, his recruitment and how he earned the opportunity to play at Tennessee. And he’s the kind of guy I have a lot of respect for. And to see him not only come back from some adversity, but to be playing really well and I think that’s another asterisk next to the Tennessee team. You’re looking at one of the best teams in the country, but you’ve got Zeigler still trying to get his legs under him. From where I was sitting, he’s back. And I know they got a couple other guys that aren’t playing up to their normal standard, statistically, and that’s just gonna happen because they’re too well coached and they’re too competitive. Those are some grown men over there. We’ve played this team a couple times over the years and that’s one of Coach Barnes’ better teams, in my opinion in early January.”

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