Jordan McRae scored a career-high 26 points for the second game in a row Wednesday night … and that concludes the positive aspects of Tennessee 's SEC opener against Ole Miss.
The visiting Rebels took the Vols to the woodshed, dominating all phases of play in a 92-74 beat-down that had some Big Orange fans filing for the exits with nine minutes remaining. McRae summed up the Rebels' rout best:
“I think they just outplayed us in every aspect of the game,” he said. “They shot better. They rebounded the ball better. In those two areas alone, when you do that you're going to win the game.”
Much as Memphis did in an 85-80 win at Thompson-Boling Arena last Friday, Ole Miss used superior quickness and athleticsm to repeatedly beat Tennessee to loose balls, to rebounds and to the basket on dribble penetrations. Simply put, the Vols looked so slow that head coach Cuonzo Martin broke with tradition and played a few possessions of zone defense in the second half.
“It was surprising,” McRae said. “But we each have to take pride in guarding our man. If you can't guard him, you've got to do something.”
Following the script of every Tennessee loss this season, the Vols stumbled out of the starting gate and trailed 24-15 midway through the first half. Ole Miss expanded a 38-30 intermission lead to 42-30 early in the second half. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Marshall Henderson widened the gap to 69-53 with 9:17 left and sent some of the 17,059 heading for the parking garage.
Still, the worst was yet to come. The Ole Miss lead peaked at 21 points (92-71) before McRae made a three-point play in the final seconds to secure the final margin. The Rebels, especially Henderson, spent the game's final minutes adding insult to injury with celebratory laughter and some mild taunts.
|Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson (22) gets around Tennessee defender Josh Richardson in the paint.|
“Honestly, it was embarrassing,” McRae said. “At the end of the game they were laughing and having fun. I mean, it was embarrassing.”
Ole Miss was so much quicker to the basket that it wound up shooting 44 free throws, a TBA record for a visiting team. The Rebels made 38, outscoring the Vols 38-17 at the free-throw line. Ole Miss also exploited its quickness and athleticism on the backboards, outrebounding Tennessee 47-32. Fourteen of the rebounds were offensive, resulting in 25 second-chance points.
“We were getting the stops we needed to,” McRae said. “Then they would get an offensive rebound and a foul. It seemed like we fouled 'em every play down in the second half, and that can't happen.”
Henderson leads the SEC in scoring at 18.2 points per game, so the Vols set up their defense to contain his 3-point shooting. They succeeded, limiting him to 3 of 12 from beyond the arc, but failed miserably when he drove the ball. The result? Five driving baskets and 13 of 14 free throws.
Henderson wasn't the only Rebel who burned the Vols, however. Reginald Buckner (13 points, 15 rebounds) and Murphy Holloway (15 points, 12 rebounds) posted double-doubles. Point guard Jarvis Summers, averaging just 7 points per game, got into the act, too, hitting 4 of 7 field-goal tries and
8 of 9 foul shots en route to 16 points and 3 assists.
McRae was outstanding in defeat, sinking 8 of 14 shots from the field, 3 of 8 from 3 and 7 of 9 from the foul line. He also contributed 2 assists, a block and a steal in just his second start of the season. Jarnell Stokes provided what little support McRae got, contributing 15 points and 11 rebounds.
Poor shooting again haunted the Vols, who made just 38.5 percent from the field and 26.9 percent (7 of 26) from 3.
Ole Miss improves to 12-2 overall and 1-0 in SEC play. The Vols slip to 8-5 and 0-1. There are 17 SEC games remaining but losing your league opener by 18 points at home does not bode well for Tennessee's future.
“We're not going to think about this game no more after tomorrow,” McRae said. “We're going to learn from it, watch film on it and then it's on to the next (game).”
The “next game” is Saturday afternoon at Alabama, followed by a Jan. 15 trip to Kentucky. Clearly, the Vols are in danger of starting 0-3 in conference play if they don't jell quickly.
“It's not so much shock,” McRae said. “It's really just mad. Everybody's really disappointed in how we're playing. The thing about it is, it's on us. It's not on anybody else.”