After starting the season 6-2, head coach Rick Barnes and the Tennessee Vols were facing their third straight road loss as they traveled to the Pavilion to face off against the Ole Miss Rebels.
Despite a 25-25 overall record in Oxford and a scary stretch in the second half, the Vols were able to sweep their fourth SEC opponent and notch their 11th conference victory on the season.
Admiral Schofield led the way, recording a team-leading, 25 career-high points on 9/14 shooting, and tying for the team lead in rebounds with seven. He finished second on the team in scoring with 15 points while recording a double-double during the first meeting.
Schofield’s performance was integral for Tennessee as Grant Williams struggled with inconsistency and foul trouble for most of the game, playing just 20 minutes on the day. Schofield constantly made play after play - hitting outside shots, making offensive rebounds and plays in the post - while remaining a key figure in helping the Vols hold off the Rebels during a major second-half run.
“I wanted to step in and be more aggressive knowing that Grant was in foul trouble, and I had to be mindful of not fouling on defense and doing the best I could.” - Admiral Schofield
Tennessee got off to one of their best starts on the season, suffocating the Rebels on defense early in order to go on a 24-4 run and build a 20-point lead during the first half, 29-9. Schofield led the team in scoring with 13 points and the team was incredible from beyond the arc, hitting 55% of their shots.
The Rebels went scoreless from downtown - missing all 13 of their attempts - and hit just a quarter (9-36) of their shots. They were able to make a few plays, but could only cut the lead down to 15 as the they trailed 41-26 at halftime.
Tennessee nearly played a perfect first half, which made the atrocity that was displayed on the court during the first five minutes of the second half even more of an enigma than it already was.
The Vols came out sloppy, unprepared, and were flat-out manhandled by the Rebels to start the second half. Ole Miss came out on fire, hitting five of their first seven shots, while the Vols were just absolutely dreadful. They turned the ball over four times on their first five possessions, allowing the Rebels to cut the lead to just six. Williams was blocked on the ensuing possession, which led to a terrible shot by Lamonte Turner. The Rebels rebounded and Terence Davis slammed the ball home, cutting the lead to four, 41-37.
The frustration was clear on the face of head coach Rick Barnes. All year long the Vols had struggled with opponents in the second half, and here they were again.
“We said hey, we’re here because of us. they didn’t do one thing different....we’re doing things at the end of February that we shouldn’t be doing. Especially with guys that have played enough basketball now to understand how important possessions are, regardless if you are in a four-point game or you’re up fifteen.” - Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes
The Vols would make just one bucket in the first nine minutes of the second half, but the hard, physical play of Schofield - and some big outside shots from Turner - kept the Vols alive and in the lead.
“We didn’t take care of the ball, we didn’t do what we needed to do on the offensive end.... we gotta do better coming out of the second half.” - Schofield
Things cooled off for the Rebels soon afterward. After getting off to a 5/9 start shooting the ball in the second half, Ole Miss limped their way to just 2/14 shooting while the Vols went on a 16-4 run.
Schofield scored six points on 75% shooting and grabbed one board during the run, while eclipsing his previous career-high of 21 points. A huge trey by Yves Pons put the Vols up 63-46 and Tennessee never looked back - stretching the lead to a game-high 21 points at a certain period.
The second-half surge from the Rebels keeps the red flag raised for the Vols in the sense that they are still struggling to close out teams, however, at this point in the season, Schofield knows what needs to be done.
“It’s that time of the year where we really have to lock in and really understand that every game is important and we have to play like every game is our last...we have to have that mindset developed.” - Schofield
Hopefully the rest of the team knows that as well.
The victory moves the Vols to 21-7 (11-5) on the season. They travel to Starkville to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Tuesday. Tip off is scheduled for 7PM ET.
Stats from the game:
- At one point in the first half, the Vols had 11 made shots and 11 assists, while Ole Miss had recorded zero assists. The Vols also had more made shots (11) than Ole Miss had points scored (9) in an early span of the first half.
- The Rebels shot a dismal 1/23 from downtown. That is easily a season-low for the Ole Miss.
- 104.5 The Zone’s Midday 180 co-host Chad Withrow made an interesting point about Grant Williams’ ability to get into early foul trouble and how it puts added stress on the team. Williams recorded his first foul less than a minute into the game and recorded his third early in the second after a terrible attempt to draw a charge. Now, even though the team played pretty well in his absence, this is definitely something to monitor as tournament season draws near. The Vols can’t expect Schofield to score 25 every night with Williams on the bench. They just simply don’t have the guard play to create those opportunities.
- The Vols outscored the Rebels 40-6 over a combined stretch of both halves throughout the game.