OXFORD, Miss. — Tennessee refused to settle for the same old, same old at Ole Miss.
The Vols hit eight consecutive shots in the second half to pull away for a 74-57 men’s basketball victory over the Rebels before a crowd of 8,807 at Tad Smith Coliseum on Saturday.
“I told the team it was non-negotiable; we’ve got to get this win,’’ said UT associate head coach Tony Jones, filling in while coach Bruce Pearl served the sixth game of his eight-game SEC suspension. “We had to have the will to win.’’
Tennessee senior center Brian Williams led the way with 18 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots.
“I saw the tape of (Pearl’s) first game here and they pounded us, and my sophomore year they played tougher than us, too,’’ Williams said, referring to the Vols’ 81-65 and 83-69 defeats in their past two trips to Oxford. “We knew we had to stick to the plan and play tough team defense.’’
Scotty Hopson scored 16 points and Cameron Tatum came through with all 13 of his points in the second half for the Vols (14-7, 4-2 SEC).
Chris Warren scored a team-high 16 points for Ole Miss (13-8, 1-5), but the All-SEC guard struggled through a 6-of-21 shooting performance that included just one assist and three turnovers.
The game was tied 32-32 at the end of a physical first half, with the Rebels getting half of their points from the foul line (16-for-19 shooting).
Ole Miss was hanging on to a 42-41 lead when Tatum ignited the Vols with a 3-pointer at the 13:55 mark that put UT up 44-42.
Warren answered with a 3-pointer to give the Rebels a 45-44 advantage, but it was the last lead Ole Miss would see.
The Vols stayed hot, hitting their next seven shots from the field. By the time the shooting steak ended, with Melvin Goins draining a 3-pointer at the 6:55 mark, the Vols had built a 63-49 lead.
Tatum credited Steven Pearl with an assist that enabled him to break a nightmarish scoring drought in SEC road games.
Prior to his layup at the 15:45 mark of the second half, Tatum was 0-for-11 shooting through 59 minutes of play in league road games.
“Gotta thank Steven for that pass to get me a layup,’’ said Tatum, whose following shot was the trey that sparked the decisive run. “The guys told me to be ready to knock down shots in the second half.
“That run we had felt great, but our defense was serving as the springboard.’’
The Rebels turned the ball over 16 times and made just 16 of 60 shots for a season-low 26.7 shooting percentage.
“That’s unbelievable to hold an SEC team to that shooting percentage in their gym — that’s Tennessee basketball,’’ Jones said. “To play balls to the wall with maximum effort, build a wall and help each other on defense.’’
At times the Vols utilized a 1-2-2 zone, which they refer to as their “15” defense, to keep Warren and the Rebels off balance.
Jones explained that UT’s point guard was at the top of the zone pressed out on Warren, with the two defenders in the middle ready to step out at Warren when necessary.
“You’ve essentially got two guys waiting on him,’’ Jones said. “We saw Georgia run some zone and Florida was effective with it, too.’’
Williams, whose 18 points tied his season high, said stopping Warren was key.
“We knew he would pull (shoot),’’ Williams said. “You get 6-of-21 from your star player, I don’t think any team could win.’’
UT, a half-game out of first place in the SEC East Division, returns to action at 9 p.m. Thursday at Auburn (8-13, 1-6).