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Tennessee basketball: What Vols’ SEC Tournament win vs. Ole Miss means

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Given the complex matchup zone the Ole Miss Rebels run and the issues Tennessee basketball has had on offense this year, a 70-55 win over the Ole Miss Rebels would seem like something to celebrate. After all, they only beat the Rebels by four in the regular season.

However, without Zakai Zeigler, it’s unclear if this means they turned a corner. For starters, that last game was the SEC opener for both teams way back in December. Also, it was on the road.

Most importantly, though, Kermit Davis, the architect of that defense, was head coach. Davis was fired late in the season, and Ole Miss got worse down the stretch. As a result, there’s not much to make of Tennessee basketball winning this Thursday matchup.

True, Josiah-Jordan James shot well, going 4-of-11 from three en route to 20 points. The Vols scored 70 without being able to generate many transition buckets, as the only forced seven turnovers. They often had to score out of their half-court sets.

At the same time, they did so despite Santiago Vescovi not shooting great. He was 3-of-10 from three with 15 points. So how did they pull this off?

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Well, the Vols dominated in the paint by-committee. Olivier Nkamhoua had nine points, and Julian Phillips came away with eight points off the bench as he continues to get healthier. James shooting the ball from outside was the other part. They also didn’t turn it over.

Finally, UT shot 12-of-14 from the free throw line. Free throws have come and gone all year, and this was crucial for them. That’s the one stat, though, that you could believe in for the future.

Scoring in the paint depends on the types of defenses other teams run. James is streaky from three game to game. As a result, it’s hard to know if Rick Barnes can continue to get this out of his team.

Then there’s the question as to whether or not they even care about the SEC Tournament. Early on in this game, that seemed to be the case, as they trailed 25-19 with 10 minutes to go.

What appeared to happen in this one is their depth simply overpowering Ole Miss and proving to be too much. It’s hard to know whether or not that continues going forward.

Either way, Tennessee basketball advances. The Vols will look to exact revenge on the Missouri Tigers Friday after losing on a last-second shot in the regular season.

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