Vols crumble down the stretch in 52-50 loss at Ole Miss

Mississippi guard Jarkel Joiner (24) has his shot blocked by Tennessee guard Josiah-Jordan James (5) and forward Olivier Nkamhoua (13) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Oxford, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Tennessee has been lousy this basketball season at extending win streaks against Southeastern Conference opposition.

After failing to extend four-game streaks over Florida and Missouri late last month, the No. 11 Volunteers went to Ole Miss on Tuesday night seeking a sixth straight win over the Rebels. Tennessee led by 11 in each half but crumbled down the stretch in a 52-50 loss that dropped the Vols to 12-4 overall, 5-4 in league play and instantly wiped away the euphoria of Saturday night's 80-61 scorching of Kansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge.

"This was really disappointing, and it shows that we're still a pretty immature team not being able to come in here locked in and getting the job done," Vols sophomore guard Josiah-Jordan James said. "Ole Miss has a very talented team, but we didn't play to our standard of Tennessee basketball, and that's pretty disappointing."

Tennessee scored 23 points within the game's first 10 minutes, which included a 5-for-7 start from 3-point range that evoked memories of Saturday's impressive slaughter. The Vols went completely frigid from there, tallying 27 points in the game's final 30 minutes and finishing 16-of-45 (35.6%) from the floor.

An Yves Pons jumper with 13:03 remaining put the Vols up 40-31, but they would not score another field goal until a Keon Johnson 3-pointer pulled them within 51-49 with 40 seconds left. Tennessee committed seven turnovers during that drought, and freshman guard Jaden Springer missed the front end of two one-and-ones.

"We're too good of a defensive team to continue to let people score off of our offense," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "With four guards on the floor - guards are supposed to take care of the ball and handle the ball, but some of the ways we turned it over was just being lazy and not understanding how important the ball is. It baffles me to think of some of the ways we turned the ball over."

photo Tennessee guard Victor Bailey Jr. (12) pulls away a rebound from Mississippi forward Romello White (0) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Oxford, Miss., Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Said Pons: "This was a tough one. We had the game under control for most of the game, but we weren't tough enough to finish it."

Pons scored 13 points, while Johnson added 11 and James 10 for the Vols, who were outrebounded 37-30.

Ole Miss (9-8, 4-6) snapped an 11-game losing streak against ranked opposition behind 15 points from Devontae Shuler and 14 from Romello White. Shuler scored seven consecutive points during an 11-0 surge that turned a 42-35 deficit into a 46-42 lead with 4:37 remaining, with that run transpiring with Pons sitting on the bench with four fouls.

Following Johnson's 3-pointer that made it 51-49, Shuler just missed a layup with 15 seconds left that could have put the game away. Instead, Springer drove into the lane before coming up short on a jumper, and Johnson snagged the rebound and was fouled with 3.5 seconds remaining.

Johnson missed the first free throw and, following a time out, made the second attempt, making it 51-50. The Vols fouled Robert Allen, who missed his first attempt before making the second, and a James 3-pointer at the buzzer was short.

"We wanted Keon to make that (second free throw), and we wanted to foul by pushing the guys underneath the basket and foul without any time going off the clock," Barnes said. "We didn't execute that, either."

Tennessee plays again Saturday night at Kentucky in a showdown that will tip at 8 and be televised by ESPN.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.