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PREVIEW: No. 18 Vols host Ole Miss Wednesday

Playing without two season-long starters, Tennessee (9-3) dropped its SEC opener on the road last Wednesday to No. 19 Alabama, 73-68.
Olivier Nkamhoua
Olivier Nkamhoua(Tennessee Athletic Communications)
Published: Jan. 3, 2022 at 5:39 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The 18th-ranked Tennessee men’s basketball team returns to Thompson-Boling Arena for its SEC home opener Wednesday, hosting Ole Miss at 7 p.m. ET.

Playing without two season-long starters, Tennessee (9-3) dropped its SEC opener on the road last Wednesday to No. 19 Alabama, 73-68. In the absence of super senior forward John Fulkerson and freshman guard Kennedy Chandler, junior forward Olivier Nkamhoua stepped up for the Vols with a 15-point, nine-rebound performance. Junior guard Santiago Vescovi and freshman guard Zakai Zeigler also scored in double figures with 13 and 11 points, respectively.

Up next, Tennessee is back on the road this weekend, traveling down to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to take on No. 21 LSU on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. ET on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.

THE SERIES

• Tennessee leads the all-time series with Ole Miss, 75-45, dating to 1924.

• When the series is contested in Knoxville, the Vols own a 43-12 advantage.

• While Ole Miss won last season’s meeting in Oxford (52-50), the Vols have won five of the last six in this series.

• Ole Miss had its scheduled SEC opener (Dec. 29) against Florida postponed, so the Rebels haven’t played since a 75-73 home loss to Samford on Dec. 21.

• The last time these programs met in Knoxville, John Fulkerson scored 16 first-half points en route to an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double that fueled UT to a 25-point win (73-48).

• In that same game, Olivier Nkamhoua shot a perfect 3-of-3 from the field and 4-of-4 from the foul line while totaling 10 points, one assist and two blocks in 19 minutes as a true freshman.

LAYUP LINES - TEAM

• According to KenPom, the Vols rank second in the nation in adjusted defensive efficiency, allowing only 85.7 points per 100 possessions. College teams typically average close to 70 possessions per game.

• The Vols rank among the Division I top 10 in turnover margin (+6.6, 6th) and assist/turnover ratio (+1.64, 8th).

• Tennessee’s 10.9 turnovers per game is the lowest (best) average in the SEC.

• Tennessee owns a +28.7 scoring margin at home this season (85.6 ppg to 56.9 ppg).

• 43 percent of Tennessee’s points this season have been scored by first-year Vols (402 of 930).

• The Vols are attempting 8.2 more 3-pointers per game than they did last season (28.1 per game compared to 19.9). In wins, UT is shooting .386 from long range. In losses, that average drops to .188.

• Tennessee ranks fifth nationally in average home attendance this season, drawing 16,692 fans per game at Thompson-Boling Arena.

LAYUP LINES - PLAYERS

• Tennessee was without its first- and third-leading scorers last week at Alabama, as Kennedy Chandler and John Fulkerson did not travel due to COVID management protocols.

• Chandler’s 5.3 assists per game rank second in Division I among true freshmen.

• If Fulkerson returns to action Wednesday, it will be his 143rd career game played as a Vol. He will pass Wayne Chism (142 from 2006-10) to stand alone atop Tennessee’s all-time games played list. See note below.

• The SEC record for career games played is 152, held by Kentucky’s Darius Miller (2008-12).

• With Fulkerson out, forwards Olivier Nkamhoua (15), Brandon Huntley-Hatfield (8) and Uros Plavsic (6) combined to give the Vols 29 points at Alabama.

• Junior guard Santiago Vescovi has 13 steals over UT’s last five games (2.6 spg).

ABOUT OLE MISS

• Ole Miss travels to Knoxville with an 8-4 overall record. The Rebels’ initially-scheduled SEC opener against Florida last Wednesday was postponed after COVID issues arose within the Florida program, making Wednesday’s matchup with Tennessee Ole Miss’ first SEC game of the season and first game at all since Dec. 21.

• In its non-conference portion of the schedule, the Rebels posted home wins over the likes of Memphis, Middle Tennessee and Dayton, while falling to Marquette, Boise State and Western Kentucky on neutral courts. Most recently, Ole Miss fell to Samford at home on Dec. 21, 75-73.

• Ole Miss has yet to play a true road game this season.

• Rebels’ head coach Kermit Davis is in his fourth season at the helm of Ole Miss’ program, having posted a 59-46 during his time in Oxford.

• Graduate 7-foot center Nysier Brooks leads the team in rebounds (7.8 rpg), blocks (0.9 bpg) and is third on the team in scoring (8.9 ppg). Brooks is in his first season at Ole Miss after spending two seasons at Miami (2019-21) and three seasons at Cincinnati (2016-19).

• After suffering a fractured hand in the season-opener, freshman guard Daeshun Ruffin has returned from a four-week absence to register three straight standout performances for the Rebels, averaging 16.0 points, 2.7 assists, 1.7 steals in Ole Miss’ last three games. Ruffin, a top-40 prospect in the class of 2021, is Ole Miss’ first McDonald’s All-American signee in school history.

• The Rebels’ leading scorer, senior guard Jarkel Joiner, is averaging 14.8 points per game and has scored in double figures during all but one of Ole Miss’ games this season.

LAST MEETING WITH OLE MISS

• Eleven second-half turnovers proved too costly to overcome as the 11th-ranked Tennessee basketball team fell on the road to Ole Miss, 52-50, on Feb. 2, 2021, at The Pavilion.

• The Vols were solid defensively and shot 44 percent from behind the 3-point arc, but a lopsided second-half run from Ole Miss helped the Rebels snap UT’s five-game win streak in the series.

• The Vols were led in scoring for the fourth consecutive game by senior Yves Pons, who scored 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting while knocking down two of his three attempts from 3-point range. Pons also had four rebounds and drew a pair of charges.

• Freshman Keon Johnson scored 11 points and reeled in four rebounds on the night while hitting multiple late free throws when the Vols were struggling to convert field goals.

• Off the bench, Josiah-Jordan James totaled 10 points, six rebounds, one block and a steal.

• Tennessee controlled the early portions of the contest, jumping out to a 23-15 lead over the opening 12 minutes, with nine of those points coming on three 3-pointers from James.

• Ole Miss held the Vols to just five points in the final eight minutes of the half, as UT held a slim, 28-23 edge heading into the halftime break.

• UT opened the second half on a 10-4 run, extending its lead to 38-27 with just more than 15 minutes remaining.

• Ole Miss responded with a 19-4 go-ahead run spanning more than nine minutes of game action and held a 46-42 lead at the under-four-minute media timeout.

• The Vols knotted the score at 46 apiece before the Rebels delivered multiple baskets with less than two minutes to play to take a 51-46 advantage.

• In the closing seconds, UT cut the Ole Miss lead to two points before James had a look at a buzzer-beating three that fell just short, cementing the night’s final score.

MEMORABLE VOL PERFORMANCES AGAINST OLE MISS

• Brandon Wharton scored 20 points, Rashard Lee added 17 and 10 rebounds, Isiah Victor poured in 16 points and C.J. Black totaled 15 and 13 rebounds as UT upset the 11th-ranked Rebels 77-67 in Knoxville on Jan. 17, 1998.

• Gene Tormohlen grabbed 31 rebounds at Ole Miss on Feb. 11, 1957, to lift UT to a 98-88 win in Oxford. The 31 boards still stand as the second-best single-game effort in school history.

• Carlus Groves went 11-for-12 (.917) from the floor, the fourth-best single-game average in UT annals, against the Rebels to lift Tennessee to a 98-86 win in Knoxville on Feb. 19, 1992.

• Jeronne Maymon grabbed an incredible 10 offensive rebounds as part of an 11-point, 17-rebound effort against Ole Miss in the 2012 SEC Tournament in Nashville. Despite 21 points from Trae Golden and 15 from Skylar McBee, the Vols fell in overtime, 77-72.

MISSISSIPPI LETTERMEN UNCOMMON

• Incredibly, Tennessee has had just one all-time letterman from the state of Mississippi. Sardis, Mississippi, native Torrey Harris played for the Vols from 1995-99.

FULKERSON POISED TO BREAK UT’s GAMES PLAYED RECORD

• After taking advantage of a sixth (COVID) year this season, John Fulkerson is poised to break Tennessee’s program record for career games played.

RANK PLAYER, YEARS GP

T-1 John Fulkerson, 2016-pres. 142

T-1 Wayne Chism, 2006-10 142

3 Cameron Tatum, 2008-12 138

4 Josh Richardson, 2011-15 136

DEFENSIVE HIGHLIGHTS

• The Vols’ current scoring defense of 60.4 ppg is the program’s best since 1968-69 (58.9 ppg).

• Tennessee has held its last nine opponents under 1.0 points per possession.

• In handing No. 6 Arizona its first loss of the season, the Vols were the first team to hold the Wildcats—who boasted the highest scoring average in Division I (91.0 ppg)—to fewer than 80 points.

• Tennessee’s 76-36 win over UNC Greensboro on Dec. 11 marked UT’s fewest points allowed during the shot-clock era. It was the lowest point total for an opponent since Ohio Northern scored 33 in 1983.

• The Vols are forcing 17.5 turnovers per game and averaging 21.6 points off turnovers

• The Vols have forced 25 turnovers—a Barnes-era best—twice this season, vs. Presbyterian and UNCG.

• UT’s 10.3 steals per game rank 12th in Division I.

• The Vols average 30.4 deflections per game.

ZEIGLER WON’T BACK DOWN

• True freshman guard Zakai Zeigler has proven to a rock-solid addition to this Tennessee roster. He exploded for a team-high 18 points in the Vols’ win over North Carolina.

• Zeigler ranks sixth on the team in scoring (6.8 ppg) and third in total assists (32) while logging 17.7 minutes primarily off the bench.

• Among Vols who average five or more minutes per game, Zeigler owns the best plus/minus rating per 40 minutes at +22.4.

• Zeigler also owns a 2.0 assist/turnover ratio.

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