KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee coach Rick Barnes usually finds some reason to criticize his team’s performance even after lopsided wins.
Not this time.
Grant Williams and Lamonte’ Turner scored 17 points each to lead five Tennessee players in double figures Saturday night as the 18th-ranked Volunteers trounced Mississippi 94-61 for their fifth straight victory.
In the second half, Tennessee scored 59 points while shooting 71.4 percent overall (20 of 28) and from 3-point range (10 of 14).
“Probably obviously the best half of the year we’ve played,” Barnes said. “When the ball’s going in, it makes everything look good.”
The blowout enabled Tennessee (17-5, 7-3 SEC) to move into sole possession of second place in the Southeastern Conference. The Vols began the day in a three-way tie for second with No. 21 Kentucky and No. 23 Florida, which both lost Saturday.
Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield said the Vols won’t get distracted by their rise in stature. Schofield said the Vols haven’t forgotten how the SEC media projected them to finish 13th in the 14-team conference.
“We were picked 13th to start the season, so we’re always in the locker room thinking how can we get out of that 13th position,” said Schofield, who had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Tennessee has won eight of its last nine games while Ole Miss (11-12, 4-6) has dropped five of its last six. With eight games remaining in the regular season, Tennessee already has exceeded its 2016-17 win total. The Vols finished 16-16 last year.
Tennessee showed its enormous potential in a brilliant second-half performance. The Vols outscored Ole Miss 59-36 after halftime. They had 27 assists and only six turnovers for the game, including a 17-1 ratio in the second half.
“Today obviously was an avalanche,” Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. “Unfortunately, we were under it.”
Kyle Alexander scored 14 points and Jordan Bowden added 10 for Tennessee. Bruce Stevens scored 16 points and Terence Davis added 13 for Ole Miss.
Ole Miss shuffled its lineup for this game, with 7-footer Dominik Olejniczak making his first start since Jan. 16 and forward Justas Furmanavicius starting for the first time since Dec. 31
The changes didn’t make much of a difference, as Ole Miss missed 10 of its first 11 shots and scored just three points in the first 5 ½ minutes of the game.
After trailing 35-25 at halftime, Ole Miss cut Tennessee’s lead to 35-32 by scoring the first seven points of the second half. Tennessee answered with a 9-0 run and stayed comfortably ahead the rest of the way.
Ole Miss: The Rebels have struggled in SEC competition whenever leading scorer Deandre Burnett hasn’t been on top of his game. Burnett had just seven points and shot 2 of 13 Saturday while going scoreless in the second half. Burnett has averaged 20.8 points in Ole Miss’ four SEC wins. He missed one of the Rebels’ six SEC losses and has averaged just 9.8 points in the others.
Tennessee: The Vols are on a roll heading into a two-game road swing Tuesday at Kentucky and Feb. 10 at Alabama. But this Tennessee team has played well away from Thompson-Boling Arena so far. The Vols are 5-2 in true road games and went 2-1 in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas.
Tennessee had a scary moment early in the second half when Schofield appeared to hurt his right ankle while defending a 3-point attempt by Davis.
Schofield pounded his fist on the court in frustration a few times as he lay on the floor before walking slowly into the locker room. But he ended up missing less than a minute of action before returning to the game.
“Honestly, I was worried about if he’d made the 3 or not, to be real with you, because I did not want to hear Coach Barnes’ mouth after that because I had kind of relaxed on the play and he got (the shot) off,” Schofield said. “I was really trying to go up and block the shot. I knew I was going to be OK, but I guess it looked pretty bad.”
Tennessee already has its best ranking since December 2010 and should move even higher Monday.
Ole Miss hosts Missouri on Tuesday.
Tennessee is at No. 21 Kentucky on Tuesday.
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