Tennessee 74 Ole Miss 57 - Patience and Poise

The numbers suggest the outcome - when you see that Ole Miss shot a stunning 16 of 60 (26.7%) from the field and an even worse 4 of 20 (20.0%) from the arc, and you factor in their 16 turnovers and the Vols' massive +13 rebounding advantage, a 17 point win isn't surprising.

But if you didn't see this thing, you'd probably be very surprised to hear that the game was tied at halftime, and that the Vols led by just two at 47-45 with 12:30 remaining.

The refs kept it close in the first half, calling thirteen fouls on the Vols and four on the Rebels.  Free throws were the one thing Ole Miss did well, hitting 16 of 19 in the first half and 22 of 26 (84.6%) for the game.  The Vols were frustrated, and started turning the ball over and settling for quick threes.  On the road in an arena Bruce Pearl has never won in, we weren't sure if Tony Jones could keep the Vols focused and if this roller coaster team had the necessary maturity to win a game like this.

But in the last 12:30, Ole Miss kept clanging away, but the Vols stepped on the gas with some of their best basketball of the year.  With Tobias Harris on the bench with a minor ankle injury, Steven Pearl finished off a beautiful and mysterious fast break, with ball handling duties going to Brian Williams and Skylar McBee.  From that point on, it was clear it was Tennessee's night.

Cameron Tatum followed up with a deep three - he had 13, all in the second half - and the rout was on.  As Ole Miss continued to misfire, the Vols took advantage:  Scotty Hopson had 16, but the Vols really did damage on the inside.  John Fields had 5 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks.  Tobias Harris couldn't get any breaks at the rim, but still finished with 12 rebounds to go with his 6 points. 

But the player of the game was clearly Brian Williams.  He gave Tennessee a clear advantage in the paint on both ends of the floor, finishing with 18 points on 7 of 8 shooting, along with 9 rebounds and 4 assists...all in just 25 minutes.  The Vols shot 43.3% and still grabbed 19 offensive rebounds.

With all the inconsistency we've seen and the way the breaks were going in the first half, this team could've folded down the stretch, or battled the Rebels to the wire.  But the Vols stayed patient and never lost their poise in the second half, and in the last twelve minutes UT was without question the better basketball team.

With South Carolina and Florida proving today that wins against the West aren't guaranteed, the Vols quietly picked up their fourth straight SEC win, moving to 14-7 and 4-2 in league play, now tied with the Gators in the loss column.  Tennessee gets four days off, then Tony Jones will finish up with at Auburn and vs Alabama on Thursday/Saturday.  If the Vols continue to display the poise we saw today, Tennessee will hit the halfway mark at 6-2 with Bruce Pearl coming back...just in time for a trip to Rupp.

As frustrating as this team has been at times this year, today was a strong display of maturity down the stretch when several signs suggested a different outcome.  It's still against West opponents and there's still a lot of basketball left to be played...but if you look hard enough, I think you can see this team making progress.

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