Tennessee dropped four spots to No. 18 when the current Associated Press Top 25 rankings were released Monday, but the Southeastern Conference squad has an answer in order to start another push forward.
The Volunteers will get back John Fulkerson and Kennedy Chandler after a COVID-19-related absence when they host Ole Miss on Wednesday at Knoxville, Tenn.
Playing without Fulkerson and Chandler appeared to have been the difference for Tennessee (9-3, 0-1) when it played in its SEC opener at Alabama.
In a tight back-and-forth contest last Wednesday, the then-No. 19 Crimson Tide pulled out a 73-68 victory behind season-high totals in points (20) and rebounds (10) from Noah Gurley.
The Vols held a 68-67 lead with 50 seconds remaining after Oliver Nkamhoua’s 3-pointer, but Alabama closed the contest with six straight points to finish off the victory.
Coach Rick Barnes’ Tennessee squad made just 22 of 63 field-goal attempts (34.1 percent), including a 7 of 29 (24.1 percent) mark from 3-point range.
Chandler is the Vols’ leading scorer, averaging 14.0 points per game and a team-best 5.3 assists. A gritty, emotional figure in the paint, big man Fulkerson contributes 9.9 points and leads with 6.6 rebounds.
Barnes said his team took the “next man up” mentality against the Crimson Tide.
“We said, ‘Hey, this is what we have and we’re going to go play,'” Barnes said. “We believe in these guys, we recruited them. We said, ‘This is an opportunity for some of you guys to get more minutes.'”
Nkamhoua topped the Vols with 15 points and nine rebounds. Santiago Vescovi had 13 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals before fouling out.
Ole Miss (8-4, 0-0) will be looking for a bounce back after having its scheduled SEC opener against Florida postponed last week following COVID-19 health concerns within the Gators.
In their most recent outing on the court two weeks ago, the Rebels fell 75-73 to visiting Samford as they closed out their nonconference schedule with a disappointing defeat.
A last-second buzzer-beater by the Rebels’ Jaemyn Brakefield from the corner went in, but a quick review ruled the left-hander failed to get the potential game-tying bucket off in time – awarding the upset win to the Southern Conference’s Bulldogs.
Ole Miss coach Kermit Davis saw a familiar weakness crop up from his team: Another slow start in the second half.
Samford jumped out on a 16-2 run in the second half’s first five minutes – transforming a six-point deficit to an eight-point advantage at 52-44 with 15:07 remaining.
“Our team has struggled a lot this year starting some second halves,” Davis said. “Give Samford credit. They came out and we couldn’t guard them. We haven’t done it lately, but we had wide-open looks and just let it affect us on the other end. Then they jumped out 10 or 12 (ahead).”
Daeshun Ruffin had a team-high 17 points and leading scorer Jarkel Joiner added 15, but Samford shot 50.9 percent from the field to the Rebels’ 40.6 percent to pull off the shocker.
–Field Level Media