In a shootout that lasted till the final buzzer, the Tennessee Volunteers (25-3, 13-2 SEC) survived an offensively-charged thriller in the Pavilion at Ole Miss.
The Rebels (19-9, 9-6 SEC) sought to prove their mettle in conference play after a home win against Georgia. With the seventh-ranked team in the nation rolling into Oxford, the talented Ole Miss starting five wanted to make every shot count.
Beginning early in the first half, a deluge of three-pointers from Blake Hinson, Devontae Shuler and Breein Tyree stoked the enthusiasm of the raucous home crowd. As the energy in the arena began to build, play became less refined. Turnovers were frequent on both sides, resulting in fast breaks, fast scoring and lots of back-and-forth basketball.
From the outset, the Volunteers seemed uncharacteristically fazed by an explosive and prepared bunch of Rebels. Ole Miss senior Terence Davis rallied his team, scoring 11 points in the first half with two 3-pointers. Tennessee, meanwhile, had only managed to shoot 1-7 from beyond the arc going into the second half.
At the half, Ole Miss led the Volunteers 39-34, with Coach Kermit Davis and the Rebels looking confident going into the break. Tennessee fans prepared to tackle the thought of a third straight road loss, a further drop in the rankings and the loss of their contested spot atop the SEC.
Fortunately for the Vols, Coach Rick Barnes ensured all his players thought about was winning the game.
Following successful halftime adjustments, Tennessee returned to its roots. Thanks to the ability of Grant Williams to make the shot and draw the foul, the men in orange dominated the early minutes of the second half, going on a 12-0 run.
Lamonte Turner, who only had four points in the first half and just seven on Saturday against LSU, scored 13 points in the second half, swinging the momentum back in the Volunteers’ favor. Williams, who had just five points in the first half, led both teams in scoring with 21 points.
With 19 seconds left to go, a foul was called on Grant Williams. Ole Miss leads the SEC in free throw shooting, and Breein Tyree, the Rebels’ leading scorer, stepped up to the line. Thus far, his team had shot 14-14. With the game tied, all 10,000 fans in the Pavilion watched in anticipation as Tyree’s shot bounced off the rim and into the arms of Admiral Schofield.
In close-game situations, it’s rarely a question whose number Coach Barnes will call. Powering his way through a fearless Ole Miss defense, Williams made a go-ahead layup with three seconds left and, in usual fashion, drew the foul — a testament to both his talent and his tenacity.
When all was said and done, the Vols left Oxford with a close, hard-fought victory, with scores of unsatisfied Ole Miss fans raining down drink cups and popcorn onto the court like confetti. As the regular season draws to a close and the Vols look forward to March and the NCAA Tournament, their pursuit of confetti of a more elegant sort continues.
Up next, Tennessee will face No. 4 Kentucky on Saturday at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville. The game will tip off at 2 p.m. ET and can be seen on CBS.
Edited by Robert Hughes
Featured image by Craig Bisacre, courtesy of Tennessee Athletics