Ole Miss came out swinging and swishing Wednesday night, landing a figurative punch in the mouth by hitting seven of its first eight shots in racing out to a 13-point lead over Tennessee.
"It was a gut check for us,'' UT senior Cameron Tatum said. "We hadn't been down like that at home; we had to do a better job taking pride in our defense.''
The Vols (15-13, 7-6 SEC) did just that, scoring a 73-60 men's basketball victory over the Rebels (15-12, 5-8) before a crowd of 17,079 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
It was UT's sixth straight home win and its 11th in the past 12 games in Knoxville, and it kept the Vols in a tie for fourth place in the SEC.
Junior Jeronne Maymon recorded his eighth double-double with 18 points on 6-of-7 shooting and 11 rebounds, as UT won its 11th straight at home over Ole Miss dating back to 1991.
As impressive as Maymon was, Jordan McRae made what could prove to be the highlight move of the season en route to his 16 points. McRae launched
Ole Miss vs Tennessee Men's Basketball Highlights, Feb. 22, 2012
himself from outside of the paint on a baseline drive, throwing down a one-handed dunk that brought the crowd to its feet during a second-half rally.
"I had my mind made up that it was going to be a dunk when I started to drive,'' said McRae, who also had four assists with no turnovers and six rebounds. "You have to take advantage of opportunities like that, and it was a great feeling, knowing we had the crowd behind us and our team was on a run.''
Trae Golden scored 11 points and had five assists, and Dwight Miller and Tatum each scored 10.
Miller was part of a unit that came off the bench and got eight consecutive stops after the Rebels jumped out to the 15-2 lead as a late-arriving crowd was finding its seats.
Miller scored seven consecutive points, including his first 3-pointer of the SEC season, as the Vols used a 19-2 run to go up 21-17 on a Maymon basket at the 6:02 mark.
Ole Miss, led by Terrance Henry's 15 points, used a 9-0 run to rally back, taking a 31-30 lead into the half.
The Vols, however, hit their first four shots of the second half, going up 39-33 on a Tatum 3-pointer at the 17:52 mark.
"I was trying to get the ball inside to Jeronne, because he had a smaller man on him,'' Tatum said. "But he told me to shoot it, and I was wide open. I just hit an open shot — something I should be doing a lot more of, anyway.''
Moments later, McRae's one-handed, monster slam sent a bolt of electricity through the building, giving the Vols a 47-37 lead and capping a 7-0 spurt that led to an Ole Miss timeout with 11:09 left.
The Rebels, losers of three in a row, didn't get closer than seven points after that.
Ole Miss entered the game leading the SEC with 38.6 rebounds per game, but UT held a 40-28 advantage on the boards Wednesday and outscored the Rebels 36-28 in the paint.
"They killed us on the glass ... finished everything at point-blank range,'' Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "They just dominated us block to block.''
Martin said it was by design.
"The biggest key to our game plan was we had to rebound,'' Martin said. "And we had one of our better rebounding jobs all season. We did a really good job keeping them off the glass. Sometimes they send five guys, but we boxed out.''
The other key for the Vols was avoiding the turnover bug in the second half; 10 of UT's 11 turnovers came in the opening 20 minutes.
The Vols played their third consecutive game without junior center Kenny Hall, who was suspended indefinitely on Feb. 15 for conduct detrimental to the team. There is no timetable for his return.
Tennessee returns to action at 8 p.m. Saturday at South Carolina, a team it defeated 69-57 on Feb. 8 in Knoxville.
The Gamecocks (10-17, 2-11) dropped a 59-48 decision to Vanderbilt (20-8, 9-4) on Wednesday night.
South Carolina brings a 9-7 home mark into their game with the Vols, but UT has won 10 straight in the series dating back to a loss in Columbia in 2007.
Mike Griffith covers Tennessee men's basketball. Follow him at http://twitter.com/MikeGriffith32