Photo by University of Tennessee Athletics ( @Vol_Hoops on X)
By Tucker Harlin
KNOXVILLE, Tenn– The last unbeaten domino in the SEC has fallen as No. 5 Tennessee (11-3, 1-0) trounced No. 22 Ole Miss (13-1, 0-1) 90-64 in Thompson-Boling Arena at Food City Center Saturday.
It was the Vols’ largest margin of victory over a Top 25 opponent since their 88-58 victory over No. 25 Kentucky in February of 2013. The Vols dealt the second largest margin of defeat to a Top 25 team this season, only behind Colorado’s 90-63 win over then No. 15 Miami in the NABC Brooklyn Showcase in December.
“We got kicked today,” Rebels coach Chris Beard said. “It’s not just the players. It’s the coaching staff and the whole organization. They (Tennessee) were more competitive and physical.”
The Rebels were able to keep pace with the Vols for much of the first half.
But the constant threat of forward Jonas Aidoo down low was something neither of the Rebel big men could handle. Aidoo had been nursing an injury over the last week and had a rough outing in the Vols’ midweek victory over Norfolk State, but exploded for a double-double of 24 points and 10 rebounds on the Rebels.
“I though Jonas fought physically,” Vols head coach Rick Barnes said. “He and I had a long talk after practice and I just told him how good I thought he was. Jonas is just a wonderful person, great kid, and I love being around him.”
The Rebels tried to keep the game within two possessions the rest of the half, and they were able to do so for much of the half as the Vols were unable to score from distance.
But the Vols gradually woke up from distance in the back end of the half.
They ended the half with a made three-point shot at the buzzer from guard Jahmai Mashack. Not generally known for his scoring capabilities, Mashack made two important threes that helped give the Vols their 9-point halftime advantage.
“I know myself, I know I’m a star in my role,” Mashack said. “That’s the essence of Jahmai Mashack, that’s how I go about things. I want to make sure that’s a statement I made the whole time I’ve played basketball. If I stand in the corner and play defense, that’s what I’m going to do; if that’s going to the basket and scoring threes I can be adapted to whatever we need.”
After guard Dalton Knecht made one of two free throws at the beginning off the half, the Rebels could not keep the deficit in single digits the rest of the way.
A key component to the Vols’ second half cruise was the play of Zakai Zeigler.
Zeigler scored 12 of his 17 points in the half, but he was a key facilitator for the Vols as he doled out 10 assists. With that said, Zeigler now owns a program record for double-doubles on points and assists with six in just three seasons.
“He’s back,” Aidoo said about Zeigler. “I love seeing him confident, hitting threes, and getting us set. He just brings so much fire to the team and he fires us all up.”
The Vols will be back in action Wednesday for their first SEC road game at Mississippi State in Humphrey Coliseum. The Bulldogs suffered a 68-62 road loss to South Carolina to open SEC play. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. ET and the game will air on SEC Network.