The No. 7 Tennessee Volunteers believe their field-goal accuracy is on the upswing as the Southeastern Conference portion of their schedule starts Wednesday afternoon at Ole Miss.
Tennessee has not played since last Wednesday's 86-44 blowout of Austin Peay, when the Vols (10-2) were led by senior forward Olivier Nkamhoua's 20 points on 9-of-11 shooting and senior guard Santiago Vescovi canning all five of his 3-point attempts in adding 18 points. The Vols shot 56.3% against the Governors, but are shooting just 41.8% this season, which ranks 295th nationally.
"I think we've become a lot smarter with how we play in our shot selection," Nkamhoua said Tuesday on a Zoom call. "We've really gone to playing inside-out, whether that's with drives or posting up, so that we're getting more 2-point attempts instead of just 3s, and that's helping us with our field-goal percentages.
"We're also getting better 3-pointers off of rhythm instead of shooting them fast and shooting them in a rush."
Wednesday's contest in Oxford has the unique tip-off time of 5 Eastern on the SEC Network.
Nkamhoua scored 16 points in the 75-70 loss at Arizona on Dec. 17 to complement sophomore guard Zakai Zeigler, who amassed 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting, but graduate transfer guard Tyreke Key and Vescovi combined to make just six of 22 shots against the Wildcats.
"We keep a lot of numbers with guys, and we know where they're most effective," Vols coach Rick Barnes said. "What's important is them understanding that. Tyreke is shooting a much better percentage when he's closer to the 3-point line as opposed to being further out, so he's got to work hard to get in the area where his numbers improve, whereas Zakai shoots better the deeper he is.
"Santi obviously shoots the ball when he's a little further back, so it's them understanding the subtle little details and getting their feet set. Inside, we've done a little better job, and that's what this game is about. Can you get better every day? I think it's important to try to get better right now."
Points have been difficult to come by in Tennessee's last two games against Ole Miss. The Vols fell 52-50 in Oxford during the 2020-21 season and survived 66-60 in overtime this past January in Thompson-Boling Arena despite never leading in regulation.
"The last time we went in there we lost," Nkamhoua said. "It was weird because it was the COVID year, so we didn't get the full experience of playing in that arena. I'm excited to see what it's like with the fans, and hopefully we can get a win."
The Rebels are 8-4 under fifth-year coach Kermit Davis, having defeated Florida Atlantic, UTC, Stanford and Temple, and having lost to Oklahoma, Memphis and UCF. The glaring setback for Ole Miss was last Tuesday's 66-65 home loss to North Alabama.
Ole Miss is led by junior guard Matthew Burrell, who averages 15.6 points per game.
"When he gets going, he's a handful, but this is still about us trying to get better," Barnes said of Burrell. "We have got to continue to get better defensively, and we've got to keep rebounding the ball at an extremely high level. That's what, I think, has put us in a good position so far to where we've had some success."
ODDS AND ENDS
This will be Tennessee's earliest SEC opener since the 1989-90 season. ... Barnes said there is no change in the status of senior guard Josiah Jordan-James, adding, "He'll warm up with us a little bit, but he hasn't gotten into 5-on-5 stuff yet." ... The Vols lead the nation in 3-point-goal defense (20.1%) and rank second in field-goal defense (32.9%). ... Tennessee has yet to trail at halftime this season, leading by the average score of 36-23 at the break.
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.