James, Vescovi star as Volunteers cruise past Rebels
Nashville, Tenn. --- No. 5 seed Tennessee (22-9, 11-7 SEC) defeated No. 13 seed Ole Miss in, 70-55, in the second round of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on Thursday at Bridgestone Arena.
Josiah-James Jordan (20 points, seven boards) and Santiago Vescovi (15 points, six boards) led the way in the absence of injured star point guard Zakai Zeigler. Vescovi tacked on three assists and scored three buckets from beyond the arc for the eighth time in his last nine games.
Rick Barnes' team is now 19-0 when holding opponents under 60 points this season.
The Volunteers hit 10 3-pointers on the day and outrebounded the Rebels with a whopping 38 compared to 22. Ole Miss kept the game close for a long while because of the 14 turnovers its defense created.
Tennessee entered the day looking for momentum after a loss to Auburn in the regular-season finale and Ole Miss lost a little gas in the tank after a close 67-61 win against South Carolina in the first round of the tournament one night earlier.
The Volunteers began the game shooting 3 of 4 from beyond the arc and the Rebels fired back while hitting their first three.
Jordan got the ball rolling for Tennessee with two early 3-pointers and a mid-range shot to collect eight points in the opening five minutes.
Ole Miss' hot shooting continued halfway through the first with big baskets from Jaemyn Brakefield and Myles Burns - who had eight apiece at the 6:29 mark. Tennessee was shooting 5 of 10 from beyond the arc and had moved the ball around with all five starters on the scoreboard at that point.
After a timeout, the Rebels and Volunteers traded baskets to keep the score tied at 29-29. Vescovi opened a Tennessee lead with a 3-pointer as the half winded down, but Burns followed up with a quick layup - keeping the back-and-forth attack alive.
The Volunteers closed out with Vescovi dishing to a wide-open Jordan in the corner, leading to a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that left the Vols with a 39-33 lead at the half.
Jordan continued his hot shooting in the second half as he nailed a pair of free throws and then hit from beyond the arc to accrue 16 on the game and put the Volunteers up 46-37 with 15 minutes remaining.
Amaree Abram and Matthew Murrell led the charge in a fast-paced second half with a pair of buckets to narrow the gap, but Tyreke Key's 3-pointer extended the Vols' lead to 55-48 with 11:07 remaining before a media timeout.
Key's bucket sparked a 12-2 run that turned the game around and put the Volunteers in winning position, with the Tennessee crowd roaring. The scoring slowed down the game unwound and Tennessee called a timeout with 4:00 minutes remaining to collect itself.
Following the timeout, the Volunteers put their foot on the gas and closed the game out with a 15-5 run to move on the quarterfinals.
With Thursday's win, Tennessee has now won nine of its last 12 SEC Tournament games dating to 2018, with three championship game appearances during that span.
Tennessee will face 4-seed Missouri in the quarterfinals of the tournament on Friday at 3pm ET -- the game will be aired on ESPN.
Ole Miss (12-20, 3-15 SEC) is eliminated from the tournament.