Moments later the Rebels sealed the deal with a 10-3 spurt that extended a 69-60 lead into a 79-63 cushion. Ole Miss coasted home from there, ultimately winning 83-69.
As usual, Tennessee played a very good first half. The Vols outscored Ole Miss 25-7 over the final 9:16, turning a 21-13 deficit into a 38-28 lead at the break.
"You had to be pleased about the first-half performance," head coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game radio show. "Our guys rallied without Chris and played some really good basketball. We held them to 35-percent shooting. They didn't make a 3-point shot and we kept them off the foul line. We did some really good things."
The Vols also hit 7 of 14 shots from beyond the arc and forced 10 Ole Miss turnovers during the first 20 minutes.
The Rebels opened the second half with a small lineup and a 13-2 spurt, however, that produced a 41-40 lead.
Pearl said the Vols were "scattered" offensively and made far too many turnovers coming out of halftime, adding: "It's very discouraging to have that lead, then give it away right away."
"The formula has been real consistent for us," Pearl said. "We play well in the first half, then come back in the second half (and falter).
"It's exactly the opposite of what our team did last year. We wore people out (last year). We're wearing ourselves out (this year)."
The coach believes the second-half fades can be chalked up to inexperience and immaturity. Ole Miss started three seniors Wednesday, whereas Tennessee started three freshmen. Noting that the Rebels were "man strong," Pearl said their physical maturity helped wear down his youthful Vols.
"It absolutely takes its toll," he said, " and it doesn't usually show until the second half."
JaJuan Smith scored 22 points to pace Tennessee, which slips to 14-6 overall and 2-3 in Southeastern Conference play. Ramar Smith chipped in 16 points but committed 10 of UT's 19 turnovers. Fellow freshman Josh Tabb chipped in 11 points.
Tennessee's inside game was a no-show. Freshman post players Wayne Chism (5 points) and Duke Crews (2 points) combined for just 7 points and 10 rebounds. Each picked up three first-half fouls, and Crews fouled out with around four minutes left.
Sanders was the difference for Ole Miss, now 13-7 overall and 2-4 in SEC play. The senior guard bounced back from a 1-for-9 shooting performance in the first half to hit 6 of 11 in the second half. He scored 18 of his team-high 20 points after intermission. Dwayne Curtis, a 6-8, 280-pound post player, chipped in 18 points and 9 rebounds. Bam Doyne added 13 points.
The Vols have lost four of their last five games, and the road doesn't get any easier. They visit Kentucky Sunday at Lexington. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. with national television coverage provided by CBS.