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Tennessee Athletics photo / Tennessee junior guard Santiago Vescovi scored 17 points and had a key 3-pointer in overtime as the No. 18 Volunteers rallied past Ole Miss 66-60 on Wednesday night.

The college basketball season has yet to reach the midway mark for Tennessee, but the Volunteers already have produced multiple clunkers from 3-point range.

A 5-for-28 showing in the lopsided loss to Villanova. Missing 28 of their first 30 attempts in the overtime setback against Texas Tech, and going 2-of-15 during the first half of Wednesday's eventual overtime topping of Ole Miss.

Need a guarantee from Vols seventh-year coach Rick Barnes? More of those painful outings will occur.

"They happen with everybody, even at the highest level," Barnes said Friday on a Zoom call. "I remember one time when Mike D'Antoni was with Houston, and they went 0-for-28 or 0-for-29. They said he walked in the locker room and said, 'Hey guys, tomorrow they'll go in.' You can't coach making shots. What you can coach is trying to get guys to take rhythm shots and shots they practice.

"The biggest takeaway from those games is that if we play defense the way we're capable of and if we'll rebound, you'll always have a chance, even when you can't make a shot."

Getting mauled by Villanova forever will be viewed as the wake-up call to this season, and the Vols did warm from long range at the end of each of their overtime decisions, finishing 6-of-39 against Texas Tech and 10-of-34 against Ole Miss. Against the Rebels, the Vols went 2-of-3 from 3-point range in overtime, with freshman point guard Zakai Zeigler and junior guard Santiago Vescovi connecting.

Tennessee's overtime games have been aesthetically wretched, but Barnes did notice a difference in the two.

"It was in the reaction of our players," he said. "If you could look into the eyes of Santi and Zakai and Olivier (Nkamhoua) the other night — those guys had the look of, 'We're not going to lose this game. We're going to find a way some way.'

"In the game against Tech, we were struggling and wondering who was going to make a play."

The No. 18 Vols (10-3, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) have been at their very worst in tough-shooting games right out of the gate, which was reflected by their 13-2 deficit Wednesday after 10 minutes. They may not exactly find a remedy to that Saturday night at No. 21 LSU, with Will Wade's Tigers (13-1, 1-1) leading the nation in defensive shooting percentage (34.67% ).

Barnes said LSU has the ability to switch nearly all five defenders and will bring a challenging full-court pressure, and the Vols know battling the Tigers will be tough enough should more frustration arise.

"I think 100% that offense can be mental and even luck," Nkamhoua said. "A lot of things can come down to luck, and that's why we pride ourselves on defense, because on offense a lot can be affected by luck or other factors. Missing shots can easily get into anyone's head, and it's not always easy to get out of that slump.

"That's why we are the type of team that we are. We grind it out on defense and then all we go out there on offense with no pressure, because when we come down on the other end, we can get it back."

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AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee guard Zakai Zeigler and his teammates on the sideline react to his tying shot during Wednesday's home win against Ole Miss.

Praising Zeigler

Zeigler is no longer that "other" freshman point guard for the Vols.

On Wednesday night, Zeigler's 28 minutes played against the Rebels matched five-star talent Kennedy Chandler, which was in sharp contrast to two weeks earlier against Arizona. In the 77-73 win over the Wildcats, Chandler played 34 minutes to Zeigler's 12.

Zeigler was a three-star signee who joined the Vols in late August.

"Honestly, after the first practice, I figured he was going to play," Nkamhoua said. "I feel like he and Santi could be considered the heart and soul of our team. Those two guys bring the energy and effort every day.

"Zakai has a great voice in practice, and he has a great voice in games, too."

 

AWOL in OT

Tennessee's win over Ole Miss did not include John Fulkerson in crunch time, as the sixth-year senior forward didn't play in the last couple minutes of regulation or in the five-minute overtime.

Fulkerson shot just 2-of-7 and committed three turnovers.

"He has to understand that he is in a league now where coaches have seen him for a long time," Barnes said. "He has to adjust and adapt to what we have been telling him for a long time. When he can get the ball and space to work, I believe it creates a problem. Personally, if we were playing against him, we would let him get down there and get his back to the basket against guys who weigh 30 to 40 pounds more.

"We have told him that, and the other night was strictly based on energy, effort and being productive."

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AP photo by Wade Payne / Tennessee forward John Fulkerson shoots over Ole Miss center Nysier Brooks during the first half of Wednesday's game in Knoxville.

Odds and ends

Tennessee's 17 steals against Ole Miss were the most by the Vols in an SEC game since February 2007. ... The Vols lead the series with LSU 65-49 but trail 27-26 in games held in Baton Rouge. ... LSU and Tennessee rank 1-2 nationally in KenPom's defensive efficiency ratings. ... In two career games against LSU, Vescovi is 9-of-17 from 3-point range (52.9%).

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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