Freshman point guard Darius Thompson started the game for the Vols and senior wing Jordan McRae essentially finished it, matching Marshall Henderson's 26 points with 26 of his own. McRae drained 9 of 20 field-goal tries one game after going 1 of 15 Saturday at Florida.
At one point, after missing a couple of shots in a row Wednesday night, he passed up a good look and caught some flak from 6-foot-8, 260-pound teammate Jeronne Maymon.
"Jeronne got after me one time and told me to keep shooting," McRae recalled. "You really don't want a problem with Jeronne."
McRae certainly didn't have a problem with the 3-point arc, going 6 of 7 from beyond it in helping the Vols shoot 55 percent (11 of 20) from there as a team. Josh Richardson hit 4 of 7 treys and finished with 16 points.
"I thought our guys really played with energy and passion from start to finish," Cuonzo Martin said. "They made shots, made plays, made 3-pointers. They did a great job in my opinion against the 2-3 and 1-3-1 zones, and I guess that's because we spent so much time doing it in practice."
Maymon added 16 points and 9 rebounds for the Vols, while Jarnell Stokes contributed 13 points and 14 rebounds. The double-double was his 11th of the season and 29th of his career. Thompson contributed 7 points and 7 assists for the Vols, now 13-7 overall and 4-3 in SEC play.
Henderson sank just two of his first nine shots but hit seven of the next 13 to finish nine of 22 en route to his 26 points. Fellow guard Jarvis Summers, limited by foul trouble, added 16 for the Rebels, now 14-6 overall and 5-2 in SEC play.
McRae was one of several Vols taking turns trying to guard Henderson, who earned his points by making some truly acrobatic shots.
"I just try to chase my screens," McRae said. "It's tough guarding him the last two years, just chasing him around. I don't know what it is about Ole Miss but they've got the best screeners in America."
After shooting miserably last Saturday at Florida, Tennessee shot a solid 49.2 percent (30 of 61) from the field and 88.2 percent (15 of 17) from the foul line Wednesday night. The Vols dominated the backboards 45-27 and posted 20 assists versus 12 turnovers.
Still, the key to victory was Tennessee's perimeter shooting. McRae opened the game with a 3, then Richardson added two more as the Vols raced to a 13-4 lead. Another McRae 3 capped an 8-2 spurt that bumped a 16-8 lead to 24-10 with 9:01 left to halftime. A 3 by Thompson pushed the bulge to 19 points (37-18) with 2:20 left to intermission.
As energetic as Tennessee was on offense, it was just as active on defense. Richardson and sixth man Armani Moore blocked three first-half shots each as the Vols went to the break with eight blocks and a 41-29 lead.
Henderson drained three 3-pointers as Ole Miss opened the second half with a 16-9 run that trimmed the deficit to five (50-45) with 13:59 left. One Vol blamed himself for the Rebel rally.
"I said it was my fault because Marshall had two 3s," Richardson said. "I kind of got lost a couple times on that so it was my fault. But we picked it back up."
Indeed. Tennessee showed some mettle at this point, answering with a rally of its own. Maymon scored eight points and McRae nailed a pair of 3s in an 18-4 explosion that widened the gap to 68-49 and essentially put the game on ice.
The lead peaked at 20 points (79-59) with 3:37 remaining. Even then Martin struggled to relax, knowing Henderson could get Ole Miss back in the game with a string of 3-point bombs.
"He's probably the only guy in this league that you can't fall asleep on (when his team is) down 15, down 20, because he shoots them deep at any time," the Vol coach said. "He doesn't need a lot of play calls; he made two of them as he crossed the half court line. He's one of those guys that it doesn't matter what the lead is."