Tennessee returns to action tonight as the Vols will host a struggling Ole Miss team at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols are coming off their best performance since November when Tennessee used a big second half to earn a 21-point win over instate rival Vanderbilt.
The second half saw Tennessee’s struggling offense flourish as the Vols pushed the pace, smothering the Commodores with pressure and turning defense into offense.
“We have to have that mindset all the time,” senior guard Jordan Bowden said. “It can’t be like this one night and then different another night. We have to stay consistent on both ends of the court.”
Doing what Tennessee did in the second half against Vanderbilt is much easier said than done. Besides the unsustainable shooting numbers, the Commodores are the SEC’s worst team. However, it wasn’t just the results of Saturday’s contest that were encouraging for the Big Orange — it was also the process.
Rick Barnes has been hounding his team to get the ball inside all season and he was particularly hard on his team for the amount of 3-pointers taken following the Georgia game. Tennessee answered that call against Vanderbilt shooting just eight 3-pointers and getting 32 points from the front court.
“We have to establish an inside presence,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “We have to do that. It doesn’t mean you have to score; it means you have to work to get the ball in the high percentage area. No other reason than to make the team foul, make them guard us.”
Tennessee now must build off of Saturday’s performance by showing they can take the game plan from the practice floor to the game on a consistent basis.
“We’re just trying to run our offense and do what we practice because sometimes in games we get rattled and don’t really do what we practice,” redshirt-junior forward John Fulkerson said. “That’s really something we’ve been concentrating on, just running our offense and just trying to keep it simple. Our shots will be there.”
Tonight’s matchup with Ole Miss provides the Vols an excellent opportunity to show that consistency against another struggling SEC foe.
After a strong first season that saw him take the Rebels to the NCAA Tournament and earn SEC Coach of the Year honors, Kermit Davis’ squad has struggled in his second season in Oxford. Ole Miss is riding a five-game losing streak into Knoxville and, along with Vanderbilt, is the only team without an SEC win.
The Rebels enter the matchup with a 9-8 record and a 0-4 record in conference play. Ole Miss has struggled mightily against good competition this season as its only win over a power five team is a 74-72 win against Penn State.
Additionally, the Rebels have struggled on the road this season. Davis’s squad is 0-4 in true road games with double digit losses at Wichita State, Texas A&M and Florida.
One of the key pieces from last year’s NCAA Tournament team is back this season as Breein Tyree returned for his senior season. The New Jersey native hasn’t disappointed despite the team’s struggles. Tyree is averaging a team best 18.9 points per game while grabbing 3.8 rebounds a game.
Tyree and sophomore Blake Hinson are the strength of the Rebel’s team as the two pair up in the backcourt. Hinson averages 11.5 points per game. Both of guards played 39 minutes in Saturday’s home loss to LSU.
K.J. Buffen serves as the Rebel’s best interior presence scoring 10.2 points per and 6.4 rebounds per game.
Ole Miss ranks 11th in the SEC in scoring with 69.2 points per game, but with the strong guard play is 4thin the league with 14.5 assists per game.
The Rebels rank 9th in the league allowing 67.1 points per game and 12th in shooting percentage against as opponents are shooting over 43 percent from the field against them this season.
Tipoff is set for 9 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on SEC Network.