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Ole Miss battles back from 13-point 2nd half deficit to beat Tennessee, 80-69

This was a dogfight from the opening tip, and the Rebels hung tough down the stretch.

NCAA Basketball: Tennessee at Mississippi Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss found itself in a blow-for-blow second half dogfight Tuesday in Oxford and came away with a much-needed 80-69 win over the Volunteers. Sebastian Saiz and Terence Davis both turned in welcome double-doubles, and Breein Tyree had a breakout game with 15 points and six assists. Really impressive stuff.

Cullen Neal and Tyree hit a pair of baskets just before the under-16 break in the first half to push Ole Miss to a 10-9 advantage after the first five minutes. From there the sparring match was on, with both teams failing to shoot well through the middle third of the frame, and the Rebs led the way 19-14 with under 10 minutes left in the half.

Aided by a handful of Volunteers turnovers and hard-nosed play from Terence Davis and Justas Furmanavicius, Ole Miss piled onto the lead and took things over 25-17 astride an 11-2 run over the next three minutes. Sebastian Saiz worked well as a decoy down under, drawing double team after double team, which opened up other shooters around the floor. By the under-8 timeout, six Rebs had scored and five had grabbed a rebound.

The beatdown wasn’t fully yet on, though, as Tennessee pulled back to within three following a masterful 11-point run from Jordan Bowden. Still, Ole Miss hung tough after taking a few on the chin, and it certainly helped that Davis was seriously keyed in. He finished with 20 points and 11 rebounds in the night’s track meet.

Even so, the Rebels surrendered a 7-0 run to close out the first period and the score was deadlocked 38 all at recess.

The second half started inauspiciously as Breein Tyree fumbled the inbounds pass, which led to easy Volunteer points. Tennessee started the frame on a 6-1 run, in fact, and AK couldn’t even make it to the under-16 break before needing a timeout.

It was during this timeout that Rasheed Brooks collapsed on the floor after suffering an apparent seizure. He was taken to a local hospital and is in stable condition.

The refs allowed both teams to gather themselves before resuming play, but Ole Miss’ players were clearly distraught coming out of the timeout. Tennessee took off and couldn’t miss, pulling to a 52-44 lead with 13 minutes to go in the game.

Credit these Rebel hoopmen, though, for they fought valiantly into the middle of the frame to tighten things up to the tune of a 57-56 advantage thanks to a 17-2 run. From there, they couldn’t miss, and with the help of some nifty defense the W was in hand with two minutes remaining.

Here are three takeaways from Tuesday’s proceedings in Oxford.

More scorers stepped up in the absence of Deandre Burnett.

With Burnett still out and wearing a walking boot, Andy Kennedy needed to find a way to replace his guard’s production by committee, and Davis, Saiz, Tyree and the unlikely hero Justas Furmanavicius all delivered double-digit scoring efforts.

Further, Ole Miss’ defense was the difference in this game, as the Rebs made a series of timely stops in the closing minutes to keep the Vols at bay. The fast break was on all night, which led to 19 Rebel points off of Tennessee turnovers.

Justas Furmanavicius and Breein Tyree played outside of themselves.

Your rangy Lithuanian friend equalled his previous career high points in just the opening frame.

Seven of those came from the free-throw line, where Furmanavicius was shooting 46 percent coming into Tuesday night. When he wasn’t drawing contact at the rim, he was sneaking his way behind the Volunteers’ defense or converting turnovers down the stretch and just generally terrorizing Tennessee on the fast break.

As for Tyree, he finished with a career scoring night, and an alien aggression took over the youngster, who showed no fear in driving straight into the teeth of Tennessee’s defense. He still had a few freshman moments, but it was inspiring to watch him grow up as the game wore on. A real promising performance, my dude.

Sebastian Saiz passed two milestones on Tuesday.

Early in the first half, Saiz grabbed his 800th career rebound. Later in the second half, a free throw put him up over the 1,000 career points mark.

That’s some well deserved accolades for the big Spaniard, who’s averaging the most minutes per game in the SEC and also leads the conference with 12 double-doubles, including Tuesday’s effort.

The Rebs are next in action against Missouri on Saturday afternoon in Columbia.