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Defense Dominates as Ole Miss beats No. 10 Tennessee, 52-50

Defense Dominates as Ole Miss beats No. 10 Tennessee, 52-50

OXFORD, Miss. — After a frustrating two-game road stretch, Ole Miss men’s basketball returned home to The Pavilion looking to turn things around against a top-ten opponent. The Rebels made a full 180-degree turn, defeating the No. 10 Tennessee Volunteers, 52-50.

(Click here for box score.)

Tennessee arrived in Oxford fresh off a convincing 80-61 win over the nationally-ranked Kansas Jayhawks. Ole Miss was coming off a 71-61 loss to Georgia in which head coach Kermit Davis’ team never quite got the run they needed. Tonight’s contest presented a matchup of the two top defenses in the SEC, making it a sure win for the under.

Coach Davis ran with the same starters from the last game: Devontae Shuler, Jarkel Joiner, Luis Rodriquez, Robert Allen, and Romello White. Davis announced in yesterday’s press conference that K.J. Buffen would be sitting out this game for “personal issues.”

With 5:56 remaining in the first half, head coach Rick Barnes’ Vols would stretch their lead to eleven points, 26-15. Tennessee shot 6-12 from deep in the period, but even though things appeared a bit bleak for the Rebels, the Ole Miss defense looked good as they played with energy, made some really solid rotations, and at times swarmed the Volunteers into late shot clock situations or forced some turnovers that turned into easy buckets.

Offensively, the Rebels were getting good looks; however, they struggled to put the ball in the rim. But at that 5:56 moment, things started to click. Shuler sparked a 12-2 run that would cut the lead down to one early in the second half. And in that run, the Rebels would hold the Vols to one field goal for the last 5:56.

Second-half action

Things in the second half started out well for the Rebels, but Romello White picked up a quick foul and Khadim Sy went down after a nasty collision with the Vols’ Yves Pons. Soon, Tennessee would attack the Ole Miss frontcourt. The Vols sparked a run that would push their lead up to eleven again. John Fulkerson and Pons would be major factors in that lead.

The Rebels would be pressured — and there were moments where Tennessee could’ve stretched that lead out even more — but the defense stood its ground. And then, the Ole Miss defense turned things up a notch higher.

It would be the duo of Shuler and White who would will the Rebels back into the game offensively. The team focused on getting the ball in to White who was definitely up to the challenge after Coach Davis predicted the match would be the most physical of the season.

Coach gave me a challenge and I feel like I took it head on.

Romello White on the physicality of the game and in his play

Ole Miss would feed off that offensive energy and match it on the defensive end as their zone frustrated the Vols, yet again. How tough was it for the Vols? Tennessee ended the game making only one of its last fourteen attempts from the field.

Shuler would make some incredible plays on both the offensive and defensive ends to turn the game around, creating a big change of momentum in favor of his Rebels.

It helped out team a lot down the stretch. You try to make a big play to keep the momentum going.” 

Devontae Shuler

Ole Miss would chip away at the Tennessee lead and eventually overtake the Vols due to their swarming “13” defense and the 2-3. Tennessee would keep it close via the free throw line, but a Robert Allen tip-in would prove to be the big bucket the Rebels needed.

Allen would also sink two major free throws to give the Rebels a two-point lead with a little over three seconds left in the game. The clock expired as Josiah Jordan-James saw his last-second attempt hit the front rim short, and Ole Miss players began to celebrate.

Down the stretch, we made some game-winning plays. It was just a whole group effort, and I’m just so happy to see them taste that victory against a top-10 team.

Coach Kermit Davis

The 52-50 win would be the first win against a ranked opponent for the Rebels since an 81-77 victory over Mississippi State in January 2019.

For Tennessee (12-4, 5-4 SEC), Pons led the way with 13 points and four rebounds, while Keon Johnson added an additional eleven. The Vols would shoot 25% from the field in the second half (5-20) and finish the game 8-19 from the three-point line.

Making an impact

While you won’t see it in the box score, almost all of the Rebels who took the floor made a major impact on the game. Ole Miss (9-8, 4-6 SEC) was guided by the duo of White and Shuler. White would have a bounce-back performance, putting in 14 points and 6 rebounds, while Shuler finished with 15 points on 7-17 shooting, along with 7 rebounds and two steals.

Ole Miss would own the paint, outscoring Tennessee 30-10. They would also win the rebounding battle 37-30. As a group, the Rebs would shoot 39% from the field, 25% from three and 64% from the line.

Three Quick Observations

1. A Dream Lineup

For the first time tonight, we saw a lineup that featured both Khadim Sy and Romello White. It was a lineup Coach Davis was ready to experiment with and it proved to be pretty efficient. The lineup forced the Rebels to revert to a 2-3 with Romello playing on the wings. Coach Davis does believe it could eventually turn into a 1-3-1 with White up top, but he chose the 2-3 instead.

On offense, though, the lineup gives the Rebels some surprise spacing as Sy can be a great pick-n-pop man while White owns the blocks. Coach Davis was impressed with what he saw out of the duo tonight.

“I thought they were really active, they enjoy playing with each other,” Davis said of Sy and White.

2. Defense Dictates

There was a moment where Tennessee could’ve shifted things in the Vols’ favor. The Rebels had a problem turning it over tonight.  “The most critical moment of the game was they turned us over five of seven times… and we got three kills out of it,” Coach Davis said of the second half.

We know basketball is a game of runs, but when the defense stepped up it gave the offense a greater margin of error. It also continued the theme of the night for the Rebels: controlling the pace and tempo. Ole Miss would score 18 points off turnovers, compared to the Tennessee’s eight.

3. Luis makes a splash

All year, Luis Rodriquez has taken on a tough role. Not tough as in hard, but tough as in physical. He keeps the team together doing the little things: being a defensive stopper, grabbing rebounds, swiping the ball from opponents and bringing constant energy.

He did a good job of containing Jaden Springer, one of UT’s prized freshmen. However, today we got to see Luis reap some rewards as he had one of the nastiest dunks we are going to see this season and another fast break jam.

Give the man a tip of the cap for the effort. Below is the second jam:


  • Ole Miss picked up its third top 15 win under Kermit Davis.
  • The Rebels snapped a five-game losing skid to the Volunteers.
  • Tennessee became the fifth Ole Miss opponent to score 50 points or less this season.
  • The Rebels improved to 8-0 when limiting opponents to under 40 percent shooting from the field.
  • Ole Miss kept Tennessee without a field goal from 13:09 in the second half to 42 seconds left in the game, a span of 12:27.
  • The Rebels forced at least 15 turnovers for the 14th time this season.
  • Ole Miss held Tennessee to 5 of 20 (25.0 percent) in the second half.
  • The Rebels outscored the Vols 30-10 in the paint.
  • Romello White’s 14 points were his most in a game since scoring 20 in the SEC opener at Alabama (Dec. 29).
  • Luis Rodriguez produced his 12th multi-steal game of the season, including his third straight.
  • Robert Allen produced his fourth consecutive multi-steal game.
  • Tonight was Ole Miss’ first single digit win of the season.

(Tip-ins are courtesy of Ole Miss Men’s Basketball)

Up Next

The Rebels will look to build off of tonight’s great performance as they travel to Auburn (10-9, 4-6) for a road contest against the Tigers Saturday.

A win tonight over the Vols could very well be the spark this team needs to start living up to the preseason hype we all were ready for. At the very least, we saw tonight what Ole Miss is capable of, and as a fan you should be excited for the stretch to end the season.

Enjoy the win, Rebels. Hotty Toddy!

(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)

TJ Oxley

TJ Oxley

TJ Oxley is the Vice President of Operations and the Director of Community Relations for The Rebel Walk. He is also the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer. He has over five years of experience providing in-depth analysis of college basketball through multiple platforms. A former MBA graduate of Ole Miss, TJ started with The Rebel Walk in 2019.

About The Author

TJ Oxley

TJ Oxley is the Vice President of Operations and the Director of Community Relations for The Rebel Walk. He is also the Director of Basketball Content and Senior Basketball Writer. He has over five years of experience providing in-depth analysis of college basketball through multiple platforms. A former MBA graduate of Ole Miss, TJ started with The Rebel Walk in 2019.

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