Tyler rallies UT past Rebels

With 2:19 left in Wednesday's SEC opener at Thompson-Boling Arena, Ole Miss had a four-point lead … but Tennessee had Tyler Smith. That proved to be the difference in a heart-stopping 85-83 Vol victory.

Down 83-79, Tennessee pulled within two points on a driving layup by Wayne Chism with 2:08 left. Following a Rebel misfire, the Vols got the ball to Smith 12 feet from the basket. He beat his man one-on-one and scored on a nifty inside move to tie the score at 83 with 1:19 to go.

Ole Miss' next possession saw the Rebels miss four in-close shots but get the offensive rebound each time, finally sending Kenny Williams to the foul line with 33.6 seconds left. He missed the front of a one-and-one, however, and Tennessee rebounded.

The Vols worked the ball to All-American Chris Lofton but he passed up a jumper from the left wing and passed the ball to Smith. The 6-7 sophomore forward again beat his man one-on-one and scored the go-ahead bucket with 4.2 seconds left.

"It was a simple back-screen for Tyler," said Lofton, who made just 3 of 9 shots and finished with 10 points. "I get the ball and maybe drive it. But Tyler posted up and I gave it to him. You know, who else is there to give it to at that time? He'd been playing good and I wasn't hitting shots, so you've got to go with the hot hand."

When Ole Miss' freshman Chris Warren missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer, the eighth-ranked Vols had a hard-fought victory and the 18th-ranked Rebels had their first loss of the season.

Both teams now stand 13-1.

Smith finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists in 29 terrific minutes. He hit 8 of 11 from the field, including 2 of 3 from 3-point range. JaJuan Smith also produced 21 points and 6 rebounds.

Warren scored 24 to pace Ole Miss. Eniel Polynice added 20. Dwayne Curtis, the Rebels' 6-8, 262-pound center, added 15 points and 13 rebounds. He recorded 8 of Ole Miss' 20 offensive rebounds as the visitors won the backboard battle 44-39.

Tennessee outshot Ole Miss 47.1 to 43.7 from the field and 46.2 to 32.0 from 3-point range but the Vols' fullcourt press produced just 10 turnovers.

Tennessee seemed to have the game in hand after expanding a 45-44 halftime lead to 72-60 with 11:03 remaining. The Vols hit an incredible cold spell, however. They sank just one basket over the next nine minutes, enabling the Rebels to make a 23-7 rally and grab their 83-79 lead. That's when Tyler Smith came to the rescue.

"We knew that was our go-to player at the end," JaJuan Smith said. "We gave it to him, and he took care of business."

Indeed he did. That prompted some praise from the Vols' head coach.

"The thing I like about those last two plays," Bruce Pearl said, "is that he took it right to the basket and stuck it up their nose. And that's what you need to do at the end of the game right there."

Still, Tyler Smith modestly downplayed his role in the victory. After noting that Ole Miss' post players were 250- and 260-pounders, he added: "Coach told me to go at ‘em, try to use my quickness to get by ‘em. That's my game, getting to the rack, so that's what I did."

The final play, he added, was supposed to feature Lofton as the first option.

"That was a play designed for Chris, but he got me the ball down in the post," Smith said. "Coach told me to be patient, let all the cutters cut. Once they cut, the basket was right there."


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