No. 8 Tennessee moved to 13-1 with the victory but the Big Orange's glaring weakness on the inside was never more exposed than on Wednesday night. Ole Miss' Dwayne Curtis (15 points, 13 rebounds) overpowered a UT rotation of Wayne Chism, Brian Williams and Ryan Childress.
Kenny Williams, (10 points, 8 rebounds) was almost as effective as Curtis. Moreover, Ole Miss' Jeremy Parnell chipped in 4 rebounds and 3 blocks in just 7 minutes before suffering an injury that sidelined him for the game's final 18 minutes.
The most telling statistic, however, was the fact that Curtis (8), Williams (5) and Parnell (2) combined for 15 of Ole Miss' 20 offensive rebounds. The Rebels scored probably one-third of their points on second-chance baskets.
By comparison, Tennessee got very little from its post men. Chism hit 3 of 12 shots from the floor, including 1 of 4 from 3-point range. (For what it's worth, the successful trey banked off the backboard.) Brian Williams was 0 of 2 from the floor, finishing with 2 points and 3 rebounds in 7 minutes. Childress was 2 of 5 en route to 5 points and 2 rebounds in 14 minutes.
Although Tennessee has won 24 consecutive home games, Ole Miss' domination on the inside gave Bruce Pearl an unpleasant flashback to the only two home-floor losses he has suffered since becoming UT's head coach.
The reference was to back-to-back home-court losses near the end of the 2005-06 regular season. Arkansas grabbed 16 offensive rebounds en route to a 45-24 backboard advantage and a 73-69 win at Thompson-Boling on Feb. 25, 2006. Just four days later, Kentucky's 6-11 Randolph Morris dominated the Vols (8 of 9 from the field, 22 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks) in an 80-78 Big Blue win.
Like the 2005-06 Vols, the 2007-08 Vols appear vulnerable on the inside. This year's team clearly misses Duke Crews, who is out indefinitely due to a heart problem. Though only 6-7, Crews is a rugged 233-pounder who provides a physical and mental toughness the Vols desperately need. Despite playing less than half of each game (19.8 minutes), he averaged 5.1 rebounds per game as a freshman last season. Moreover, he pulled down a team-high 89 offensive rebounds a year ago, 22 more than runnerup Chism.
Overall, Pearl was understandably pleased with the offensive effort against Ole Miss. The Vols shot 47 percent from the floor, 46 percent from 3, scored 32 baskets on 24 assists and committed a paltry 9 turnovers.
"It's hard to beat people, though, when they get 20 offensive rebounds," the coach said. "I believe it's something we can fix but I told the team, 'This right here is why we're going to have a hard time beating the big, physical teams on our schedule.'"
Ole Miss, for instance.
The Rebels brought a 13-0 record and No. 18 national ranking into the fray, so Pearl expected a stern test. He just didn't expect it to be THAT stern. The visitors led by four points with 2:19 to play only to squander the lead by missing their final six shots.
"I did not think Ole Miss would physically dominate like they did," Pearl said. "I did not think they would."