KNOXVILLE — While Tennessee's offense has been a work in progress this basketball season, its defense has been anything but.
Regardless of the competition, the personnel, the lineup, the Volunteers have shown up on the defensive end more often than they haven't.
Tuesday night was no different.
A dominating performance by the Vols gave them their fourth win in their last five games in a 73-48 rout of Ole Miss at Thompson-Boling Arena. John Fulkerson led four Tennessee double-figure scorers with 18 points while adding 10 rebounds. Jordan Bowden and Josiah-Jordan James had 11 points each, James adding six assists, while Olivier Nkamhoua had 10 points and four rebounds in 19 minutes.
"I like to think we're understanding what goes into winning. We certainly know what goes into losing," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. "I do think we're pleased with what we've done defensively in the past couple of games."
Tennessee (12-6, 4-2 Southeastern Conference) travels to face third-ranked Kansas (15-3) in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge on Saturday at 4 p.m. EST at Allen Fieldhouse.
Fulkerson the scorer in the first half gave way to Fulkerson the distributor in the second half. He didn't miss a shot in the first 20 minutes (6-for-6 field goals, 4-for-4 free throws) while adding six rebounds, but when the Rebels chose to run double-teams at him in the second half, the 6-foot-9 junior made a couple of nice assists for baskets.
Tennessee has yet to score 87 points in a game this season, but in consecutive halves — second half against Vanderbilt and the first half of Ole Miss — the Vols shot a combined 59% from the field. More impressive is that they did so while hitting just three 3-pointers in that span.
The Vols wasted little time assuming control of the game, using a 13-1 run in building a 23-10 lead midway through the first half. Jalen Johnson started the run off with a 3-pointer, followed by three baskets in the paint — two by Fulkerson and one by Nkamhoua, who probably played his best offensive game as a Vol, taking into consideration the level of competition.
WHAT IT MEANS
Tennessee has shown that it could be a really good team if it continues to play Vanderbilt and Ole Miss, two teams that are now a combined 0-9 in SEC play. From a confidence perspective, the Vols put together two solid halves back to back and can take that confidence into Lawrence, Kansas, for a game that appears much more manageable than it did 24 hours ago.
The Vols travel to Kansas for a Saturday matchup against the third-ranked Jayhawks, who defeated Kansas State 81-60 Tuesday night in Lawrence. The end of that game was marred by a brawl that undoubtedly will lead to penalties, which will be determined and announced today by head coach Bill Self, he stated in his postgame news conference. It will be interesting to see the severity of the punishments, but make no mistake about it — there will be penalties that benefit the Vols.
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @genehenley3 or at Facebook.com/VolsUpdate.