Tennessee basketball: Three takeaways from Vols’ 66-60 OT win vs. Ole Miss

Tennessee guard Santiago Vescovi (25) drives up the court during a game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2021.Tennolmiss0120 1416
Tennessee guard Santiago Vescovi (25) drives up the court during a game at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville, Tenn. on Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2021.Tennolmiss0120 1416 /

It was a huge scare, but Tennessee basketball found a pull through in the end. The Vols beat the Ole Miss Rebels 66-60 in overtime for their first SEC win in their SEC home opener, which came a week after their last outing, a close loss on the road to the Alabama Crimson Tide. Kermit Davis’ team jumped out to an 8-0 lead and then a 16-4 lead early on.

UT fought back to make it 21-19 at halftime, but the game remained a struggle in the second half, with the Rebels going up 46-38 and then 48-41 with under four minutes to go. Santiago Vescovi tied it up at 51 with a three-pointer with over a minute to go, but Kennedy Chandler missed a three late to potentially win. An 8-2 run in overtime, though, secured the win for them.

Rick Barnes’ team, ranked No. 18 in both polls, improves to 10-3 and 1-1 in the SEC with their next outing a visit to the LSU Tigers Saturday, Jan. 8. The Rebels, who were playing without leading scorer Jarkel Joiner, falls to 8-5 and 0-1 in the SEC. They will next host the Mississippi State Bulldogs that same day. Here are three things we learned from Tennessee basketball’s victory.

1. Three-point shooting held Vols back.

Davis’ 1-3-1 zone is easily beatable if you’re hitting your three-pointers, and the Vols have a good three-point shooting team. However, for whatever reason, they were off for the second straight game, going 10-of-34, or 29.4 percent, from the field. At one point, when down 48-41, they were actually below 20 percent.

Santiago Vescovi was the only person who made it look that good, going 4-of-10 from the field. Josiah-Jordan James went 2-of-5, and Olivier Nkamhoua hit his only attempt. However, Chandler was 0-of-4 from three, Zakai Zeigler was 2-of-8, Justin Powell was 1-of- 4 and Victor Bailey Jr. was 0-of-2. That all nearly proved costly.

2. Inside game was inexcusably bad.

It’s one thing if you’re having an off-night shooting the ball. However, Nkamhoua and John Fulkerson struggled in a way nobody should against a 1-3-1 defense. Nkamhoua did have 13 points thanks to overtime, but the mark of facing a zone is being able to dominate on the glass.

Ole Miss was only outrebounded by Tennessee basketball 34-33. For most of the game, the Vols were outrebounded by the Rebels. Fulkerson had 0 rebounds, and Nkamhoua had two rebounds. Brandon Huntley-Hatfield had one, and Uros Plavsic had three off the bench. This lack of dominance is why UT couldn’t take control, and it’s the major concern from this game.

3. Clutch gene showed for Vols.

In spite of all their issues, the Vols were clutch when it matter. Vescovi was 1-of-6 from three when UT was down 48-41, but he turned it on late. James also hit a three after that point. Ole Miss went up by one in overtime, but then Zeigler and Vescovi each hit threes to put UT up for good. They all of a sudden got much more efficient.

More importantly, Tennessee basketball was 6-of-8 from the free throw line and made all three attempts in overtime. They also made up for their poor performances with aggressive defense, forcing 27 turnovers, largely thanks to five steals from Zeigler, four from Chandler and three from Vescovi. These little things pulled them through.