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Ole Miss vs. Tennessee basketball final score: Rebels fade late in 75-66 loss

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The Rebel hoopmen led for 30 minutes, but not 35 minutes.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss took the lead five minutes into the game and wouldn’t relinquish it for the next 30, playing cat-and-mouse with Tennessee until the Vols took back advantage with five minutes to go. Rocky Top wouldn’t look back from there and picked up a 75-66 win, but this game was much closer than that score would indicate. Terence Davis and Sebastian Saiz led all Rebel scorers with 14 and 13, respectively

After Davis opened Ole Miss’ scoring with a three from the right wing, the Rebs went cold all the way into the under-16 timeout, shooting just 1-10 from the floor. A pair of walking calls on Rasheed Brooks and Breein Tyree certainly didn’t help their case, and Tennessee led 10-3 five minutes into the game.

Davis finally broke the ice after six full minutes of scoreless basketball, and that appeared to wake up Sebastian Saiz, who skied for a hoop and harm in the paint (he missed the free throw, but whatever). The rally wasn’t fully on yet, though, as Tennessee answered with a pair of scores to take a 16-9 advantage midway through the opening period. Justas Furmanavicius was by that time limping around the court, but he sat only briefly and was ready to toss up an airball to take it to the under-8 timeout.

A brief rally out of an Andy Kennedy timeout brought Davis back to three-point land, and his splashdown then alley-oop to Marcanvis Hymon from the left elbow tied things up at 16 all. That flurry came in the midst of a seven for 11 shooting storm for the Rebs, who’d somehow managed to tighten things up at 22-20 with seven minutes to go in the opening half.

That ignited others on offense, including Brooks, who dropped two three balls, and Tyree, who netted a couple of hard drives to the rack. These heroics were in the service of an 8-0 run that culminated in a 31-26 lead with four minutes before recess. Tennessee continued to fight, however, and Ole Miss held a tenuous 38-34 advantage at halftime.

The Rebs and Vols then traded barbs through the first stretch of the second half, with Ole Miss continuing to hold its advantage, 43-39, at the under-16 stop. The Basketbears did maintain the four-point separation into the middle of the half, going shot-for-shot with Rocky Top, with much thanks to Hymon.

From there, a veritable track meet broke out, with both teams heating up all over the floor. Davis, Saiz and Cullen Neal slipped into foul trouble with six minutes to go, but AK stayed with them on the floor and their presence paid dividends. Neal in fact fouled out with four minutes to go, but the Rebs were still sitting on a 64-60 lead at that point in the proceedings.

Ole Miss then went cold for two minutes, which allowed the Vols to tie then take the lead by two. At that point, whether due to fatigue or just getting outplayed, Tennessee didn’t give the Rebs a chance and in the end the fouls calculus took over. The Rebs were scoreless over the game’s final three minutes.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday’s disappointment in Knoxville.

Deandre Burnett is regressing.

There was a moment early in the second half when Kennedy called for a timeout and proceeded to give Burnett a very large piece of his mind. It’s unclear what he was so worked up about, but it could have involved a rather lackadaisical pass from Burnett back to Tyree on an inbound. Burnett had caused a couple of turnovers earlier in the first half, one a particularly egregious case of dribbling with the wrong hand and then committing a foul on the runout. To say nothing of his dropped pass on a fast break when the team desperately needed a dagger bucket.

What’s more, he’s just not the effective scorer AK enjoyed through the first half of the season. Sure, he gets to the free throw line a fair amount, but he’s become trigger shy around the arc and his mobility on drives is all kinds of wonky. Perhaps he’s dealing with some lingering aftereffects of the ankle injury, but he hasn’t been himself since returning last month.

At least the defense is clicking at the right time.

Kennedy’s menagerie of defensive looks, both among and within possessions, was stout for much of this game, especially through the middle 30 minutes. The 1-3-1 in particular stymied Tennessee more often than not, a testament to the Rebs’ ability to maintain shape and spacing. What was in the early season a complete disaster at times has now become something resembling an AK defensive team, and that’s encouraging as they head into conference tournament season.

Ole Miss caught the turnover bug again.

For a time, it seemed as if the Rebs had solved that issue. Tyree was placed up at the point, which took Burnett and Neal off the ball. Against Tennessee, Ole Miss committed 18 turnovers, which directly contributed to 21 Volunteer points. In the end, though, the Rebs just played downright sloppy ball, and the Vols made them pay for their sins.

Ole Miss is next in action at Auburn on Saturday afternoon.