Tennessee turned in one of its most complete performances of the season Tuesday night, dominating Ole Miss from start to finish, 73-48.
The win marked Tennessee’s second straight and four of its last five while the loss is the sixth fifth straight for the struggling Rebels, who remain winless in SEC play.
“We’re all starting to click together,” freshman Oliver Nkamhoua said. “I know we’re young and I think that’s why now we’re starting to click. … The great part about our team is we have five freshmen. We’re going to grow together.”
Ole Miss got the first basket of the night when KJ Buffen made a contested layup over Yves Pons, but it was all Vols after that.
Tennessee used an 11-0 run midway through the half to take a commanding 12-point lead and the Vols didn’t relinquish it. Besides a brief 31 second stretch where Ole Miss cut the lead to nine points, the Vols would lead by double digits the rest of the way.
Tennessee got it done on both sides of the floor all night shooting 49% from the field in its highest scoring mark since December 21st against when the Vols scored 75 points against Jacksonville State.
In its second straight game using a 1-2-2 full court zone, Tennessee stifled the Rebels offense all night. Senior guard Breein Tyree scored 18 points for Ole Miss, but only one over Rebel scored over five points.
“I think the biggest thing is not as many breakdowns,” Barnes said. “We do a lot of switching… and they’re picking that up better, they’re echoing better, they’re communicating better and they’re talking better. We’re getting more carryover form practice when it comes to that communication.”
Tennessee got offensive contributions from a plethora of options Tuesday night with nine players scoring and four Volunteers scoring in double digits.
The Vols finally got more than just minute eating from its bench as Olivier Nkamhoua and Jalen Johnson turned in nice performances against the Rebels. Nkamhoua scored 10 points as the freshman didn’t miss a shot going 3 of 3 from the field and 4 of 4 from the free throw line. Johnson scored eight points while recording four rebounds in 21 minutes.
“He’s earned it,” Barnes said of Johnson’s recent increased role. “As much as anything, he’s really worked hard on his defense. … He’s out there talking, helping guys and I think what he’s done is he’s starting to understand the game better in terms of knowing he doesn’t have to make threes to stay in the game. He’s a good teammate.”
The Vols’ offensive storyline of the night was John Fulkerson who turned in a career night in the win. Fulkerson scored a game high 18 points, including 16 first half points, while grabbing 10 rebounds. The performance marked Fulkerson’s second double-double of the season.
“I really didn’t have to create a lot of them,” Fulkerson said of his 7-for-8 shooting performance. “My teammates created them for me and so I think that’s credit to them for running our offense. Not only for me getting easy shots, but for my teammates.”
Tennessee’s guards took care of the ball better than they have the whole season as the Vols turned in a season low eight turnovers. Josiah-Jordan James shot wasn’t at its best, the freshman tallied 11 points on 3 of 10 shooting, but James assisted on six baskets and didn’t record a turnover in the win.
“He threw a tough pass tonight, I think it was Fulky (John Fulkerson) caught it,” Barnes said of James. “That’s where he has to continue to get better, but he wants to. He’s starting to understand what he’s looking for; he’s starting to understand space on the court, starting to understand where the ball needs to get.”
Tennessee will now look to extend its winning streak on the road when the Vols travel to Lawrence to take on No. 3 Kansas Saturday. Tipoff is set for 5 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.