Tennessee apparently got all the bad shooting out of its system in Gainesville, following a 1 of 19 effort from the three point line with an 11 of 20 effort tonight. Jordan McRae and Josh Richardson hit UT's first three baskets from deep, and a minute later Tennessee had a 13-4 lead.
The Vols led 41-29 at halftime, and then for intermission Marshall Henderson took the spotlight. Ole Miss cut UT's lead from 16 points at 17:54 to just five at 14:00, backed by three Henderson threes and another from LaDarius White. But just when it had gotten uncomfortable, the Vols went inside: Jeronne Maymon scored six of UT's next eight points to push the lead back to double digits, then a critical sequence around the nine minute mark buried Ole Miss for good: McRae three, Henderson miss, Maymon layup, Ole Miss turnover, McRae three. Tennessee was back up 19 with 8:35 to go and that was all she wrote.
Ole Miss is certainly shaky defensively, but after what we saw against Florida these numbers would be a sigh of relief against anyone: 49.2% from the floor, 55.0% from the arc, 88.2% from the line. Henderson and McRae both ended with 26 points, but Henderson's came mostly via an 8 for 19 night from beyond the arc. Meanwhile McRae was much more efficient, an unbelievable 6 of 7 from three to go with four rebounds and four assists. Cuonzo Martin gave Darius Thompson the start at point guard over Antonio Barton, and Thompson rewarded his coach with 7 points and a 7/2 assist/turnover ratio, leading the way to a 20/12 team effort in that category. UT will need more bench help - Barton was the only one off the pine to even attempt a shot until the final two minutes - but sudden changes like this (remember the benching of Kenny Hall?) have sparked improvement before.
This was a big, much-needed win at home to improve the team to 13-7 (4-3). The Vols move to 48 in RPI and now head out on a two game road trip to Tuscaloosa and Nashville. Tennessee really couldn't afford another home loss right now, so just getting the win and moving on from Florida was great. But winning like this, like losing like that on Saturday, was eye-opening. Tennessee is a really good basketball team when it gets contributions from Josh Richardson, who was 6 of 11 for 16 points tonight. And against teams who lack an interior presence, the Vols can really clean up: Maymon and Stokes combined for a 29/23 tonight.
The Vols had to get it, and they looked good along the way. Now let's see if they can consistently look good on the road as this season continues to build toward March.