By The Associated Press
KNOXVILLE — Wayne Chism took a deep breath and announced to everyone gathered around him during his post-game interview: “I’m tired.”
It was no surprise.
Chism played 41 minutes and scored 26 points, including six consecutive free throws in overtime, to bail No. 9 Tennessee out for a second time in three days as the Volunteers beat No. 21 Ole Miss 71-69 on Saturday.
“I had to fight through it because I knew I was going to have to play a lot of minutes because that was a tough team out there,” Chism said.
Tennessee (14-2, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) had hit only 60 percent of its free throws before DeAundre Cranston’s fifth foul sent Chism to the line with 49 seconds left and the game tied at 65.
It was Chism’s defensive efforts that helped the Vols overcome a slow start in an 81-55 win over Auburn on Thursday. He was perfect on all 10 of his free throw attempts against Ole Miss and had his 14th career double-double grabbing 12 rebounds.
“Wayne Chism was the best player on the floor,” Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. “Anything we could do to try to get the ball in his hands we tried to do.”
Chris Warren, who helped Mississippi (13-4, 1-2) control most of regulation with his shooting, coughed up the ball twice in overtime after Chism hit free throws — even though the Vols weren’t applying much pressure.
They weren’t the only costly turnovers. The Rebels gave the ball up 21 times in the game leading to 20 Tennessee points.
“We fed that by being inefficient,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Not only do we turn it over, but we turn it over in situations that led directly to points for them, and I thought that was the turning point.”
Warren, who missed what would have been a game-winning 3-point shot just before time expired, led the Rebels with 19 points while Cranston grabbed 11 rebounds. Terrico White added 17 points.
Chism and the Vols have played a lot of minutes in their four-game homestand. Only six scholarship players and three walk-ons have been in the rotation since Pearl suspended four players for their Jan. 1 arrest.
Pearl announced before the game that guards Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum will rejoin the practice Sunday. Pearl said he decided to reinstate them after learning more details from the legal investigation and Tennessee’s student judicial affairs process.
Pearl suspended the two along with forward Tyler Smith and center Brian Williams after the four were arrested on misdemeanor gun, drug and alcohol charges during a traffic stop in Knoxville. Pearl said Williams will remain indefinitely suspended. Smith was dismissed from the team Jan. 8.
The added depth should help. The Vols struggled against the Rebels’ half-court defense and failed to get the ball inside to Chism. Their shooting didn’t help as they made a measly 28.9 percent before halftime, but the Rebels weren’t much better at 32.1 percent.
Every time Tennessee would cut Ole Miss’ margin to one possession, Warren and company would answer with a few big jump shots to build their lead back up.
Tennessee’s cause seemed lost when Warren hit a 3 that gave the Rebels a 52-40 lead with 9:18 left. But Chism’s consecutive 3-pointers followed by another from walk-on Josh Bone and gave Tennessee a 55-54 lead with 5:23 left.
“(Chism’s) perimeter game got a lot better, so it does make him kind of hard to defend because you have to go out there while he’s open on the 3,” Ole Miss’ Murphy Holloway said.
Ole Miss is 0-3 against Top 25 teams this season with losses to Villanova and West Virginia and have never beaten a Top Ten team under Kennedy.
The Vols were wrapping up the homestand at a packed Thompson-Boling Arena, where they have been dominant under Pearl. Tennessee is 10-0 this season at home — including an upset of then top-ranked Kansas a week ago — and has won 22 of its past 25 conference games here.
“We are tired,” Pearl said. “We expended a great deal of energy the last three games in seven days. This homestand is very, very memorable. This homestand was about our program. I am proud.”