KNOXVILLE — His Tennessee basketball team struggling, Cuonzo Martin broke character and called for a zone defense.
Yet the Volunteers and their coach had no answer for an an aggressive Ole Miss team.
The visiting Rebels rode free throws and second-chance points in handing Tennessee its second consecutive loss at Thompson-Boling Arena with a commanding 92-74 win in the SEC opener for both teams.
"I think they just outplayed us in every aspect of the game," said Tennessee guard Jordan McRae, who responded to his insertion into the starting five with his second consecutive 26-point game. "They shot better, they rebounded the ball better; and in those two areas alone, when you do that, you're going to win the game. Honestly it was embarrassing. At the end of the game they were laughing and having fun. It was embarrassing."
Ole Miss (12-2) took a lead it never surrendered with an 10-0 run that included three consecutive layups and extended its first-half lead to nine on aggressive drives and free throws.
After point guard Jarvis Summers scored the first nine Ole Miss points of the second half to stretch the lead to double digits, Martin, who's insisted the Vols won't be a zone team under his watch, switched to a 2-3 zone.
"It was really to try to get stops," the coach explained. "They were getting the ball in the lane. I think Jarvis Summers set the tone in the second half attacking the rim. You've got to once again take pride and keep the guy in front of you.
"[I was] just trying something different. I really didn't want to do it, but I just thought it gives the guys a chance. We cut it, but we just didn't do a good job boxing out in it."
The defense briefly worked as Tennessee registered three consecutive defensive stops and cut the Ole Miss lead to 51-45.
Nick Williams then grabbed an offensive rebound and scored from close range, Marshall Henderson sank two foul shots after the Rebels grabbed an offensive rebound and, with the deficit down to five, Terry Brutus tipped in a missed shot.
"They definitely did a great job rebounding," said Jarnell Stokes, who scored 15 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. "We didn't keep guys out of the lane. At the end of the day, that's all it came to, was keeping guys out of the lane and keeping guys out of the paint.
Henderson scored 32 points and enjoyed every moment of it as he pranced around the floor and stared and saluted at heckling fans. The junior-college transfer shooting guard drained two 3-pointers from the right wing to stretch the Rebels' lead to 16 points. His third trey, of an offensive rebound capped a 10-3 run that pushed the Ole Miss lead to 79-64 with 5:37 remaining.
"I was proud of my guys [because] they came out and were very aggressive," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "We stuck to the game plan, which was to stick the ball inside and put pressure on the rim. That's how you win in the SEC, and that's what we did tonight."
Ole Miss made just four of 15 3-point attempts, but it attacked the Vols on drives and earned 44 trips to the foul line. After entering the game shooting 68 percent from the stripe on the season, the Rebels made 38 of 44 free throws. They shot 14 free throws in the game's first 17 minutes.
The attempts and makes were a record for a Vols' opponent in Thompson-Boling Arena history.
"It really just comes down to the simple things: you have to guard your man, keep him in front of you and then you've got to box out," Martin said. "I thought they did a good job of attacking. Credit those guys for getting to the free-throw line."
Summers (16 points), Reginald Buckner (13 points and 15 rebounds) and Murphy Holloway (15 points and 12 rebounds) each made seven or more free throws in addition to Henderson's 13-of-14 night from the stripe.
A team that prides itself on its defense, the Vols (8-5) have allowed 85 and 92 points the past two games.
"I don't think anyone's panicking," Stokes said. "We know we can play good defense. We just have to put two and two together, an offensive performance and a defensive performance."
Patrick Brown has been the University of Tennessee beat writer since January 2011. A native of Memphis, Brown graduated from UT in May of 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism/Electronic Media and worked at the Knoxville News Sentinel for two years on the sports editorial staff and as a freelance contributor. If it’s the NBA, the NFL or SEC football and basketball, he’s probably reading about it or watching it on TV. Contact him ...