Spurt lifts Vols

It sounds illogical, but when things got sticky Saturday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena Tennessee's basketball team turned up the heat.

After pesky Ole Miss closed to 71-59 with 5:12 remaining, the Vols fired up their full-court press. By the time the Rebels got the ball across mid-court again, the score was 81-59 and the outcome was sealed. Tennessee ultimately prevailed 86-72, improving to 12-0 at home, 16-3 overall and 7-1 in SEC play.

Here's how the game-clinching spurt unfolded:

Nine seconds after a Clarence Sanders 3-pointer narrowed the gap to 12 points, Stanley Asumnu scored inside. Tennessee stole the ensuing inbounds pass and C.J. Watson drained a 3-pointer. The Vols forced another backcourt turnover and Watson nailed another 3-pointer. Tennessee forced a third consecutive backcourt turnover and Asumnu scored with 4:28 left. The bucket capped a 10-0 explosion that lasted precisely 44 seconds.

Tennessee's full-court press was never better.

"This style of play is going to make that kind of stuff happen," reserve guard JaJuan Smith said. "They cut it to 12, we made a couple of steals, C.J. made a 3 and I remember looking up and it (the lead) was 20. I thought, ‘That's a dagger" because their (Rebels') heads just dropped.

"When people cut the lead we just have to keep doing what we do best – which is pressure – and that's what we did tonight."

Tennessee's full-court pressure also made a dramatic impact on the game's start. The Vols recorded six steals in the first seven minutes and raced to a 21-4 lead with 12:56 remaining in the half. They eventually expanded the lead to 22 points (46-24) and went to the locker room up 46-27.

The fire Tennessee showed in the first half must've been extinguished at halftime, however, because the Rebels gradually whittled the lead to 12 with 5:12 to go. That's when the Vols went back to their press and made their game-clinching spurt.

"It was a tale of two halves," UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "We played some really good basketball the first half. The tempo was up and I thought we really played well."

Indeed. Tennessee shot 59.4 percent to the Rebels' 37.5 percent, forced 14 turnovers to the Rebels' 5 and recorded 9 steals to the Rebels' 1. The only thing that kept Ole Miss in the game was the fact Sanders – a 27-percent shooter from 3-point range coming in – drained 5 of 7 treys in the first 20 minutes.

Tennessee lost its intensity during intermission, however, enabling Ole Miss to dominate the second half. The Rebels out-shot UT 56.7-36.8 percent after the break and out-rebounded the Vols 21-17. Pearl said the visitors deserved a lot of credit for fighting back.

"The second half, like a well-coached team with some heart will do, they ignored the score and they battled," the Vol coach said. "Try as we might to prepare for that, we just didn't."

Watson finished with 18 points and 6 assists. Smith added 17 points, a team-high 7 rebounds and 4 steals off the bench. Fellow reserve Asumnu contributed 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting. Chris Lofton chipped in 12 points and Major Wingate 10.

Sanders scored 29 for Ole Miss, finishing 7 of 11 outside the arc and 1 of 8 inside it. Todd Abernethy added 14 for the Rebels, now 13-8 and 3-5 after losing their fifth game in a row.

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