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VOL HOOPS RECAP: Vols get 35 points from Vescovi, James and beat Ole Miss 70-55 to advance to third round of SEC Tournament

Vols hold onto win despite a 7-minute-plus scoring drought in the final 10 minutes of the game

NCAA Basketball: SEC Conference Tournament Second Round - Tennessee vs Ole Miss Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

Santiago Vescovi hit three 3s en route to 15 points, and Josiah-Jordan James led the team with 20 points on 6-13 shooting with four 3s of his own, and Tennessee dropped Ole Miss from the SEC Tournament with a 70-55 win.

James made the first bucket of the game — a 3 just 17 seconds into action, and from then on it kinda felt like the Vols were gonna take this win.

Ole Miss didn’t go down easy, as Myles Burns had 12 first-half points, Jaemyn Brakfield added eight points on 3-3 shooting, including 2-2 from beyond the arc. I’d like to say the Vols’ eight first-half turnovers were just a symptom of the squad trying to figure out the point-guard position in a world without Zakai Zielger, but the kind of lazy and lackadaisical passes that Tennessee threw have been an issue all year. Today, just in the first 20 minutes, Ole Miss scored 14 points off those eight Vol giveaways.

I’m not sure the final-score’s 15-point scoring differential really tells an accurate tale of how the game went. The first half was mostly a back-and-forth affair. Josiah-Jordan hit the game-opening 3, and then Ole Miss’ Robert Allen tied the game up with his own triple on the other end.

3s on back-to-back possessions from Santi and James gave the Vols an 11-7 lead, but then Brakefield hit a 3 on Ole Miss’ next trip down the court before a Jahmai Mashack turnover led to another Brakefield 3 that gave Mississippi the 13-11 lead with 15:46 to go in the first half. Julian Phillips scored four of UT’s next six points — two from a dunk and two from a layup, but Tennessee’s defense gave up layups on two consecutive Ole Miss possessions that left the time 17 all with just under 12 minutes until the halftime break.

One of those layups came off a fast-break opportunity, which is an area of the Vols’ defense that Ole Miss exposed to a degree today. The 11 points off the break basically kept Rebel/ Bear/ Landshark offense in the game, as a squad shot just 37.7 percent from the field.

Breaking it down a little further: Of Ole Miss’ 33 first-half points, 19 came via fast breaks or off Volunteer turnovers. While Burns and Brakefield had strong first half, Tennessee native Matthew Murrell had another poor outing today against his home-state team. At an average of 14.5 points per-game, Murrell is Ole Miss’ leading scorer for the season, but in Tennessee’s first game against Mississippi back on 12/28, Murrell went 1-11 from the field and finished with five points and four turnovers. This time around, he had 12 points on 4-14 shooting (2-7 from deep) and was tied for the worst plus/ minus on the team at -17. He was the only other Ole Miss player to finish with more than 10 points besides Burns (he finished with 14) and Brakefield (who finished with 12).

With 2:29 left in the first half, a Burns layup brought LOLandsharks to within one, at 34-33 lead, but a nice jump, baby hook shot from Tobe Awaka extended the Tennessee lead out to 36-33 with two minutes until half. The two teams exchanged empty possession on missed shots until James netted his third 3 of the half as the game clock expired. Nail, meet coffin.

The Volunteer defense just put the clamps on the Ole Miss offense in the second half, holding all their players to single-digit scoring outputs in the second half. Burns had just two second-half points while Brakefield only scored four.

Tennessee did manage to turn the ball over nine times in the game’s final 20 minutes, which gave Mississippi a free 11 points. Though, overall, Ole Miss shot just 8-24 in the second half and got outscored 31-22 in the final period.

During the game’s final 10 minutes, I thought we were about to see a repeat of the Auburn game, as the Vols went on a 7-minute-plus scoring drought. With 8:56 to go, Vescovi hit his third 3 of the game that put Tennessee up 60-50. After that, Mississippi managed just five points — a Murrell 3 and two free throws. The Vols ended up closing out the final 2:13 of the game on a 6-0 run that included steals from Phillips and Olivier Nkamhoua and 2-2 trips to the foul line for James and Vescovi.

The win means Tennessee gets 4-seed Missouri tomorrow at 3 PM. If you’ll remember, Missouri hit a game-winning 3 against the Vols the last time these two teams played.


  • Santi and Josiah-Jordan combined for exactly half of Tennessee’s scoring tonight
  • The Vols are averaging just fewer than 10 turnover per-game through SEC play — but the majority of that was with Ziegler playing point guard. They finished the Arkansas game with 10 turnovers, the Auburn game with nine and today’s game with 14. Unless Tennessee gets 10 3s and shoots 86 percent from the free-throw line on 14 attempts, I have a hard time seeing the Vols getting past Mizzou unless they take better care of the ball
  • Mashack led the team with four turnovers in just 18 minutes, and it’s likely in the team’s best interest if he dribbles and passes less. He can guard other team’s PGs, but unless he’s pushing it up the floor off a defensive rebound, he needs to find James, Key or Vescovi to get the offense initiated
  • While we’re on the topic, I have no idea what to make of Tyreke Key. I think he’s lost a step with his handle and forcing him into PG duties this season has been a detriment to him and the team. He played 20 minutes, attempted just three shots and made one of them — a deep 3 from the top of the key
  • What we saw from Julian Phillips today is what we need to see more of:
Phillips’ shot chart against Ole Miss

He went 3-6 from the field, with all but one of his attempts coming from outside the paint. He ended up with eight points (2-2 from the free-throw line), six rebounds (two offensive), one steal, one block and no turnovers or fouls

  • Tennessee post players continue to be a very un-fun guessing game from opponent to opponent. Aidoo at least adds some rim protection — he had one block but altered a few more shots, while Uros Plavsic played 14 minutes, scored two points on 1-2 shooting and famously air-balled the front-end of a one-and-one chance. He did manage to snag three rebounds, which is right about his season average. The dude is more than 7 feet tall and doesn’t rebound or block shots. He’s physical— that’s great, but I watched him box players out tonight and still not get the board. It’s fascinating to watch, really. Awaka is really a marvel rebounding the ball: he scored just four points, but it was on 2-2 shooting to go along with five rebounds in just 13 minutes. Olivier had a plus game, sorta, with nine points on 4-8 shooting, including a made 3 and a team-high four assists. But, he also had two fouls and three turnovers 8^ /