That collective exhale you just heard was Greater Rebel Nation's sigh of relief after Ole Miss' basketmen dropped Tennessee in a 59-57 frightfest on Saturday night. The Volunteers' first-year coach and discounted refrigerator salesman, Donnie Tyndall, brought a young Tennessee squad to Oxford and his boys in orange hung tough with a Rebel team that appeared not so much gassed on two days' rest as somewhat disorganized in their transitional defense. So it goes.
Tennessee led 30-27 at halftime -- though it somehow didn't feel that way -- and an 11-1 UT run straddling recess propelled Rocky Top to a 41-33 lead early in the second period. Bolstered by Stefan Moody's 22 points and six steals, however, Ole Miss mounted a comeback over the final 10 minutes, pulling themselves within a possession in the final minute.
After the serendipity of a reversed out-of-bounds call with 35 seconds left and up by a score, Ole Miss gained a possession to send Jarvis Summers to the line. He missed one of two attempts, setting the scene for a tense final 27 seconds. The Vols' Josh Richardson failed to connect on a last-second heave and Ole Miss has now won eight of their last nine outings -- and in so doing tied last season's 19 total wins.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday's grapple in the Tad Pad:
1. Jarvis finally reasserted himself and the Rebs loosened up because of it.
Dude didn't have the biggest night, but his 13 points and eight assists belie his silent game production. As if crystallized in a hard second-half charge draw, Jarvis' confidence and all-around-GO demeanor stuck fast through a game that saw Ole Miss come sporadically unhinged.
No matter, though. Cueing off Summers' persistent dishes, Hugo-Boss-model Sebastian Saiz barked off eight points on four rebounds, and he and M.J. Rhett dunked all over Tennessee's undersized frontmen:
That's some low-post muscle you'd like to see down the stretch.
2. Ole Miss' bench came strong on a short rest week.
Let's not say that Ole Miss' fitness looked taxed against Tennessee, since the starters had plenty of help from the bench. Dwight Coleby and Anthony Perez pulled 14 and 16 minutes respectively, while Snoop White chipped in five points and five rebounds in 22 minutes.
Some caveats, however: the Rebs were at times stretched in their zone-defense sets, so Tennessee found seams and dropped some painful threes before halftime. Further, the Vols topped Ole Miss in offensive rebounding, 11-9, which is somewhat surprising given the Rebs' overall size advantage. Nevertheless, Ole Miss' inside play succeeded in fits and starts on both sides of the court and the Rebel defense came up big when it mattered on Tennessee's last two possessions.
3. A competitive scrap keeps the Rebs sharp for a tough week.
Coming into Saturday's match, Ole Miss had jumped five spots to No. 33 in the latest NCAA RPI since this time last week. It's also telling that ESPN, CBSSports, and USA Today currently all pin the Rebels at a 9-seed.
These Big Dance boosts follow somewhat logically after Thursday's win at Mississippi State, and in the wake of Texas A&M's earlier knock on South Carolina, Ole Miss is tied with the Aggies for third place in the conference.
The Rebels host Georgia on Wednesday and hope to avenge their 69-64 loss in Athens last month. They then travel to Baton Rouge to tussle with a physical Tiger bunch that manhandled the Rebs earlier this season. Both teams land around Ole Miss on the bracketology scatter-plot, and both matchups lend early previews to the caliber of teams the Rebs will see during March Madness.