Ole Miss Loses Heartbreaker to Tennessee, 66-60, in Overtime
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Ole Miss men’s basketball team faced a tough task going into Knoxville.
Having been 15 days since the Rebels’ last contest, it would be fair to wonder how head coach Kermit Davis’ squad would fair after so much time off. Not only that, but guard Jarkel Joiner didn’t make the trip while he was dealing with a back injury. The program has had some recent struggles with COVID, and the Rebels were only down to ten players tonight (nine scholarships and one walk-on).
This was a tough time to face such adversity. The Rebels’ slate to open up SEC play (Tennessee, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and Auburn) are four Q1 and Q2 games in the NET rankings. This is, as of now, the toughest stretch of the season.
Defense Was on Display Early
To start, Kermit Davis dialed up a 2-3 matchup zone. It was the perfect storm as the Rebel defense dialed up pressure and forced the Vols to start 1-11 from the field. A John Fulkerson layup with 12:24 left in the first would be the Vols’ first field goal.
Ole Miss took advantage of the opposition’s early shooting woes. Matthew Murrell notched ten points in the first half and seven early on as the Rebels took a 16-4 lead.
Kermit would switch his defenses up as he used his patented 1-3-1 to keep Rick Barnes’ Tennessee team guessing. The Vols would begin to get things rolling as their defense forced 11 Ole Miss turnovers, with five coming late in the first all within a five-minute span.
The Rebels would end the first with a 21-19 lead. Despite the low score, it was a rather good shooting half for Ole Miss as the Rebs made 40% of their shots in the first and shot 50% from three. On the other hand, Tennessee shot 26.7% from the field and 13.3% from three.
Turnovers Turn the Tide
For the majority of the contest, Ole Miss did what it needed to do. It shot the ball fairly well against one of the best defensive teams in the SEC. The defense came out and disrupted the Tennessee offense with a mix of 1-3-1, 2-3 matchup zone, and man-to-man. Coach Davis’ team really controlled the pace of this game.
Late in the second, the Rebels seemed poised to steal a Q1 upset on the road. Tye Fagan caught fire in the second as the guard made four triples in the half (five overall). Fagan was a game-high scorer with 23 points on 8-11 shooting. After a Nysier Brooks dunk, Ole Miss took a 48-41 lead with 5:46 left in the second half.
Santiago Vescovi would then go on to a four-point play that ultimately kept the Vols in the contest.
Ole Miss freshman Daeshun Ruffin suffered some cramps late in the contest that made it difficult as Ole Miss was without a couple of main ball handlers. In overtime, the Rebels committed three turnovers as Tennessee took its first lead that it would hold until the final buzzer sounded.
“In the last eight minutes of the game they out-toughed us” – Tye Fagan
The Achilles heel of this game for Ole Miss was the turnovers. With Joiner out, the Rebels looked a little lost without their leader on the court. They still managed to navigate the waters when the current kept picking up. Eventually, though, the turnovers came back to bite them. Ole Miss amassed 27 of them in the entire contest.
Tennessee (10-3, 1-1 SEC) was led by Vescovi who finished with 17 points. Nkamhoua would also add 13 for the Vols. On the night, Tennessee shot 39% from the field and 29% from deep. They won the rebounding battle, 33-34, and added 21 assists.
Ole Miss was led by the aforementioned Fagan with 23 and Matthew Murrell with 17. The Rebels shot 44% from the field and 50% from deep and tallied 14 assists.
On Saturday, Ole Miss Rebels (8-5, 0-1 SEC) will host in-state rival Mississippi State in Oxford. The Bulldogs recently had their SEC game postponed against Missouri. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 PM CT.
Coach Davis commented the status of Jarkel Joiner will be determined within the next 24 hours.
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.