UT's Cuonzo Martin on the loss to Ole Miss
UT-Ole Miss post-game Tennessee press conference
NEW ORLEANS – Cuonzo Martin said throughout the season there would be games when the shots aren't falling.
Little did the first-year Tennessee men's basketball coach know, his team would match its worst shooting night of the season in its most pivotal game.
Seventh-seed Ole Miss (20-12) deflated the NCAA tournament bubble hopes of the second-seeded Vols (18-14), scoring a 77-72 overtime victory in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament at New Orleans Arena on Friday night.
The Rebels used a 9-0 run to pull away in overtime after Vols junior Skylar McBee banked in a 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 61-61. Ole Miss' Nick Williams desperation heave from halfcourt failed to draw rim, sending the game to overtime.
UT returns to Knoxville today, awaiting a likely NIT bid Sunday night. Former UT coach Don DeVoe, who serves on the NIT selection committee, said he felt UT was "in good shape" for a bid to the secondary postseason tournament.
Both Martin and Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy suggested UT could get an NCAA tournament bid after the game, but ESPN's Joe Lunardi, who authors ESPN's "Bracketology," sent an email to the News Sentinel late Friday night saying he believes the Vols played their way out of the field.
Both Tennessee and the Rebels entered Friday's game having won four straight, and UT had won eight of nine, but neither team could get warmed up on the offensive end.
As bad as UT's shooting was — 18-of-64 (28.1 percent, matching the performance in a 69-44 loss to Kentucky on Jan. 31) — Martin was more disappointed Tennessee's defense couldn't pull the team through.
"More than anything, it was they were able to dribble penetrate to their strengths," Martin said. "Their left-handed guys were able to go left, and Jarvis Summers, their right-handed guy, was able to go right."
The Vols weren't able to go anywhere against the Rebels' 2-3 zone, which was packed in to prevent dribble penetration and deter entry passes.
"When you're not making shots, a team sticks with the zone," Martin said. "We had some looks, they just didn't fall. I didn't think we were very aggressive at attacking the rim off the dribble all night."
Trae Golden led the Vols with 21 points, Cameron Tatum and McBee each scored 15, and Jeronne Maymon scored 11 points and pulled down 17 rebounds before fouling out with 2:25 left in overtime.
The Vols' last gasp in overtime came when Jarnell Stokes hit a pair of free throws to cut lead to 74-72 with 14.5 seconds left. The Rebels struggled to inbound the ball on their ensuing possession, with UT's Josh Richardson deflecting an inbounds pass that appeared to have hit Terrance Henry before going out of bounds.
The officials ruled ball out on the Vols. Martin said he couldn't be sure of what happened until he saw a replay.
Henry proceeded to hit a pair of free throws with 11.6 seconds left to effectively ice the game. Henry led the Rebels with 19 points.
"Pretty much every possession was a fight to the end," said Tatum, who played a team-high 43 minutes. "We knew going into the game, they wanted some revenge."
UT beat Ole Miss 73-60 in the teams' first meeting on Feb. 22 in Knoxville.
McBee, who scored all 15 of his points after halftime on 5-of-11 shooting beyond the 3-point arc, said the bank shot that sent the game to overtime was a matter of survival.
"We needed three to get into overtime and ended up getting it, so we were just fighting to stay alive," McBee said. "That's what you're trying to do in the tournament setting, no matter how ugly or pretty it is."
The teams were tied 28-28 at halftime. Ole Miss was in deep foul trouble, with starters Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway limited to seven and eight minutes, respectively, at the half.
UT trailed much of the half starting out 6-of-26 (23.1 percent) shooting. Until Golden's floater at the 2:20 mark, Tatum was the only Vol with a field goal.
UT's rebounding kept them in the game early. UT held a 26-16 advantage on the boards, leading to 14 second-chance points.
Ole Miss plays the winner of Friday night's late game between No. 3-seed Vanderbilt (21-10) and No. 11-seed Georgia (15-16).