By Beth Rucker/The Associated Press
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Earlier in the season, a big deficit might have spelled disaster for Tennessee. Now that the Volunteers have had a chance to absorb coach Cuonzo Martin’s unflappable attitude, it’s nothing more than a challenge to overcome.
Tennessee fought back from a 13-point deficit to beat Mississippi 73-60 on Wednesday night to hang on to a share of fourth place in the Southeastern Conference with three games left in the regular season.
“I think we’re very poised,” Tennessee forward Jeronne Maymon said. “We try to be just like our coach out there on the floor. His demeanor never changes, whether we win or lose or whether we’re up or down. We just try to be like him.”
After a slow start by the Vols (15-13, 7-6), Maymon had little trouble channeling Martin, scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds for his eighth double-double of the season.
Tennessee started the second half down 31-30. Layups by Maymon and Trae Golden and a 3 by Cameron Tatum early in the second half added up to a 7-0 run that gave Tennessee its ultimate lead.
Jordan McRae came off the bench to add 16 points, including a highlight-worthy dunk that gave Tennessee a 47-37 lead with 11:20 to play. Demarco Cox answered with a layup at the other end, but the Rebels (15-12, 5-8) wouldn’t get any closer.
“We just settled down and made plays,” Martin said. “It’s just one of those things we consistently work at and continue to get better at every day. I thought we did a good job in the second half of defending as a team with them passing, cutting and moving.”
Golden scored 11 points and Tatum and Dwight Miller both added 10 for the Vols, who committed just 10 total fouls and went 17 for 21 from the free-throw line in the second half alone. The Rebels shot 7 for 12 from the line for the whole game.
Ole Miss and Tennessee entered the game first and second respectively in rebounding in SEC play, but the Volunteers outrebounded the Rebels 40-28 and outscored them in the paint 36-28.
“They just dominated us block to block,” Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said. “They killed us on the glass, which has become a reoccurring theme. They finish everything at point-blank range. We didn’t play through contact as strong as we needed to. They outscore us by 11 points on the free throw line, and hence the difference in the game.”
Terrance Henry had 15 points to lead the Rebels, who have lost three in a row. Murphy Holloway scored 13 before fouling out of the game with 3:28 to play, and Nick Williams added 11 points.
The Vols struggled early against Mississippi’s zone defense and hit just one of their first eight shots. The Rebels hit seven of their first eight during the stretch to grab a 15-2 lead with 13:51 before halftime before cooling off.
Tennessee started attacking the paint more and answered with a 19-2 run that gave it a 21-17 lead with 6:07 in the first half. Seven of those points came from Miller, who only recently found himself back in the Volunteers’ rotation with the indefinite suspension of Kenny Hall on Feb. 15.
Entering the game, Tennessee and Ole Miss were among six teams either tied or separated by one game in the fourth through nine slots in the conference standings. The Vols moved into a tie with LSU for fourth, while the Rebels dropped to ninth.
With the elimination of divisions in the SEC this year, the top four teams at the end of the regular season will receive a first-round bye in the SEC tournament.
“I’m looking at us just trying to get a win at home,” Henry said. “We are just going to try and stop the bleeding.”
Read more in Thursday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.