Tennessee finished its pre-conference schedule the way its coach hoped it would.
Ole Miss finished its pre-conference schedule the way its coach hoped it wouldn’t.
The No. 7 Volunteers (10-2) bounced back from a loss at then-No. 9 Arizona to dominate visiting Austin Peay 86-44 last Wednesday. It was the Vols’ final nonconference game before they open SEC play against the Rebels (8-4) on Wednesday night in Oxford, Miss.
Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said the victory, which came by the second-largest margin of the season, might have been the Vols’ “most complete” performance of the year. They shot 56.3 percent from the field, including 44.4 percent from 3-point range.
“That will win you a lot of games,” Barnes said.
Vols Preseason All-SEC guard Santiago Vescovi was shooting just 27.8 percent on 3-pointers for the season after making a combined 2 of 16 in the previous two games, but he made all five of his attempts against Austin Peay.
“If you’re a shooter, confidence is one of the things you can’t lose,” Vescovi said. “I think confidence-wise, I’ve been good. I’ve never lost confidence shooting-wise. I’ve just gotten into a slump. Being able to see the shots go in has been kind of refreshing.”
Additionally, Tennessee allowed its third-fewest points of the season as it held Austin Peay to 25.5 percent shooting from the floor, 19.2 percent on 3-pointers while forcing 15 turnovers. The Vols had a rebounding edge of 47-26, including 17-11 on the offensive side.
Barnes got the improved front-court play he has been seeking. Now he hopes it carries into SEC play.
“I still think that’s a question mark if we can still be consistent,” he said. “They’re working hard at it.”
Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis was concerned about his team’s preparedness for SEC play after a 66-65 home loss to North Alabama on Dec. 20. It was the Lions’ first-ever victory against an SEC team after 19 losses.
“Right now, we’re not in a great place,” Davis said. “We’re trying to find our way. So I’m not very pleased with the progress. We’ll have moments. We’ve got good guys, real good people in the locker room, but we’re not consistent enough in practice, not consistent enough in games. We can play in spots.”
The Rebels have lost four of their past six games, including two of three at home, leaving Davis feeling the team isn’t where he expected it to be as conference play begins.
“We’ve got a lot of progress we need to make,” he said. “Being able to really get better has been tough for us. We’re struggling with that. The main thing is we need nine or 10 guys to emerge above, and we haven’t developed a nine- or 10-man rotation that we can trust.
“You’ve got to be able to know bad times with teams can create some great opportunities and can create greatness. That’s what we’ve got to be able to do. Playing a Top 10 Tennessee team at home is a great opportunity.”
–Field Level Media