No. 18 Tennessee dominated Ole Miss from start to finish on Saturday evening to pick up a 94-61 win and move into second place in the SEC. The Vols out-scored Ole Miss 59-36 in the second half on their way to their fifth straight win.
Here’s what you need to take away from Tennessee’s big win over Ole Miss as it improved to 17-5 on the season and 7-3 in SEC play.
Vols continue to play dominating defense.
Tennessee may have scored 94 points in the win, but it all started on the defensive end of the floor. It’s something that Rick Barnes has been preaching about all season long and it’s finally starting to pay off.
“We keep talking about just trying to get better defensively,” Barnes said after the game. “We know just like anybody that there’s nights where we won’t make these shots.”
Entering the game, Tennessee’s defense was seventh-best in the country according to Ken Pomeroy’s system. Following the win over Ole Miss, the Vols have moved up a spot in adjusted defense to No. 6.
Against the Rebels, Tennessee forced 17 Ole Miss turnovers as the Vols had 11 steals and blocked seven shots.
“We just want to continue to see if we can get more consistent and get better on the defensive end,” Barnes said. “We keep getting better with our defense.”
That fact that Barnes – someone who has been very critical of Tennessee’s defense this year – sees the Vols getting better defensively is a huge development for what this team could accomplish down the stretch.
After all, defense wins championships.
It’s a team effort.
Everybody chipped in on Saturday night in the win over the Rebels. Five different Vols reached double figures as both Grant Williams and Lamonte Turner scored 17 points to lead the way. Williams continued to dominate while Turner has now come off the bench to score double-digits in three straight games.
Elsewhere, Kyle Alexander and Admiral Schofield turned in outstanding performances as well.
Alexander has been excellent in conference place this season and the trend continued against the Rebels. The native out of Canada tied his season-high with 15 points and is now 27-of-30 from the floor in conference play. Alexander also hauled in six rebounds, blocked four shots and picked up two steals.
As for Schofield, we’ll talk about him in a minute.
Tennessee even received contributions from Jalen Johnson and Yves Pons. The pair of freshmen were highly touted recruits but haven’t seen much playing time this season because of the team’s depth. Against the Rebels, the pair combined for nine points on 3-of-3 shooting from behind the 3-point line.
Jordan Bowden also chipped in 10 points while John Fulkerson, Derrick Walker and James Daniel all provided productive minutes.
Tennessee has more depth than just about any team in the country and it should play a big factor in how big of a run the Vols can make in the tournament.
“The one stat that gets me excited is 33 baskets and the assist on 27 of them,” Barnes said of his team’s balance. “We do have a group of guys that talk about sharing the ball, talk about wanting a good shot, better shot.”
Admiral isn’t worried about pain.
Admiral Schofield is a machine, literally.
Early in the second half, Schofield contested a 3-pointer and landed on the ankle of the shooter. Having tweaked his ankle, Schofield was taken back to the locker room where he was examined. The junior wouldn’t remain in the locker room for long though, as Schofield was back on the court in no time.
He went on to record his third career double-double, scoring 15 points and hauling in 12 rebounds. Schofield also picked up a steal and a block.
“It wasn’t broken, and it wasn’t bleeding, so I wanted to get back in the game,” Schofield said of his ankle injury. “That’s how I was raised.
“I was actually just worried about whether the guy made the shot, because I kind of fell asleep on defense and I didn’t want to hear Coach Barnes running his mouth at me.”
Luckily for Schofield, Coach Barnes didn’t even see what happened.
“Admiral (Schofield) is one of those guys who can roll his ankle pretty good and bounce back,” Barnes said. “When he told me he was ready, I was like okay he’s ready.”
Edited by Seth Raborn
Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics