'We owe them'

NEW ORLEANS, La. -- Murphy Holloway said it best Thursday night, his team fresh off a first-round win over Auburn in the Southeastern Conference tournament.

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Ole Miss, the No. 7 seed here in New Orleans, meets No. 2 seed Tennessee tonight at 6:30 p.m. In the only game played between the teams this season, the Volunteers battled back from 13 down on their home floor to win by double-digits.

"It's going to be tough, man," Holloway said of the team's second-round matchup. "We owe them. That's all I can say."

Ole Miss (19-12, 8-8 SEC) controlled the opening minutes in Knoxville, sprinting out to a 15-2 lead thanks to hot shooting and its typically stingy defense. But Tennessee responded. And a team, Tennessee, which struggled mightily in its non-conference schedule, did as it had done throughout league play -- put away its opponent.

Tennessee (18-13, 10-6 SEC) enters the SEC tournament as one of the hottest teams in the country. The Volunteers have won four games in a row and eight of their last nine overall. They hold a 69-38 record in the all-time series with Ole Miss.

"I think they've played to their strengths," Ole Miss head coach Andy Kennedy said of Tennessee. "They play physical basketball. They're a tenacious team. They're a team that plays to its strengths on both ends."

Auburn head coach Tony Barbee sees similarities between Ole Miss and Tennessee. Both are front-court driven; Ole Miss with Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner, and Tennessee with All-SEC second teamer Jeronne Maymon and All-SEC freshman Jarnell Stokes.

Terrance Henry
Associated Press

Holloway notched double-double No. 24 Thursday night against Auburn, a 68-54 Ole Miss win. He finished with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

"There's not much difference in style," Barbee said. "You're talking about two of the bigger, more physical front lines in this league.

"With Maymon and Stokes, and then obviously with Ole Miss' front line that we just faced, it's going to be … I wouldn't want to be in that paint tomorrow with those big bodies being thrown around. It's going to be a battle in the paint."

Maymon averages 12.6 points per game and a team-best 7.8 rebounds per game. Stokes, who left high school early to join Tennessee in January, contributes 9.1 points per game and 7.5 rebounds.

The game will feature two of the SEC's top rebounding teams. In all games, Ole Miss ranks second in rebounding offense (38.5) and third in rebounding margin (+3.4). Tennessee outrebounded the Rebels, 40-28, in the first meeting between the schools.

"Obviously, Jarnell is man. Maymon is a man," Kennedy said. "They play physical basketball. They don't allow you to dribble through them often. They do a good job of, I guess Bo Ryan coined the phrase, pack the line, and that's kind of how they play. They don't allow splits off the dribble. They're going to make you beat them over the top, and they're very strong at the rim."

Ole Miss looking to improve resume:

Ole Miss is No. 53 in the nation in the RPI, according to RealTimeRPI. Tennessee has an RPI rank of 77.

With its four-game winning streak, the Rebels have placed themselves back in the conversation for an NCAA tournament bid. But they need wins. Ole Miss is 5-11 this season against teams in the top 100 of the RPI.

"We need to win basketball games," Kennedy said earlier in the week. "And that's what we're committed to doing."

Ole Miss has top-100 RPI wins against Alabama (33), Miami (51) and Mississippi State (71). However, the top-50 wins are what matter. Those are the teams considered the tournament contenders. If it wins tonight, Ole Miss could get another top-50 opportunity against Vanderbilt Saturday, should the Commodores advance past Georgia.

Reginald Buckner
Associated Press

"Just win, baby," senior forward Terrance Henry said.

Williams impresses Barbee:

Nick Williams did work Thursday night, pouring in a career-high 22 points against Auburn. He was 9 of 14 from the floor and 4 of 7 from 3.

Barbee, who is in his second year at Auburn, wasn't surprised by Williams' scoring output, despite Williams not being considered a consistent point-producer.

"He's made some big shots for them all year long," Barbee said. "He's not necessarily a shooter, but he's a guy that can make some shots. Thinking back to our game in Oxford and how they finished the last five or six games of the year, he really came on with making shots and making plays like he did (Thursday).

"It wasn't a surprise. He's a bigger, physical guard. Took advantage. He's a talented player, and that's what you want out of one of your veteran leaders on your team. You want them to take over when it matters."

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