Vols smack down visiting Rebels, 86-70

Published 7:00 am Friday, January 31, 2014

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Jordan McRae followed one of the worst shooting performances of his career with one of the best.

McRae scored 26 points and went 6 of 7 from 3-point range Wednesday as Tennessee never trailed in an 86-70 victory over Mississippi that ended the Rebels’ four-game winning streak. McRae’s big game came just four days after he shot 1 of 15 and had a season-low five points in a 67-41 loss to No. 3 Florida, which was ranked sixth at the time.

“I wasn’t thinking about what happened at Florida,” McRae said. “A team like Florida, the kind of defense they play, they’re one of the better defensive teams in the league. Nights like that are going to happen, so I wasn’t tripping off that.”

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McRae’s efforts helped Tennessee (13-7, 4-3 SEC) withstand a 26-point performance from Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson, who put up big numbers despite being hurt in the opening minute and getting held scoreless for the first 13 ½ minutes of the game. Henderson has averaged 28.7 points in three career games against Tennessee. After passing the ball on Mississippi’s opening possession, Henderson went to the floor and stayed down. He eventually limped to the bench holding his right side. After doing some knee bends on the corner of Mississippi’s bench, Henderson returned to action with 15:12 left in the first half. By that point, Mississippi already trailed 13-4.

Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy said he believed Henderson took a knee to the hip.

“He just had to work through it,” Kennedy said. “It was stiffening up on him throughout the course of the game. But it didn’t hurt his wrist. He still got up 22 (shots).”

Henderson had helped Mississippi sweep its two regular-season meetings with Tennessee last year by scoring 32 points in a 92-74 victory at Knoxville and 28 in a 62-56 triumph at Oxford. The senior guard was good enough Wednesday to keep Mississippi (14-6, 5-2) in the game while shooting 8 of 19 from 3-point range and 9 of 22 overall.

But McRae was even better. His accuracy from beyond the arc helped Tennessee go 11 of 20 overall on 3-pointers. The Volunteers entered the night shooting a league-worst 28.3 percent from 3-point range in SEC competition.

“I thought our guys really played with great energy and passion from start to finish,” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “They made shots, made plays, made 3-pointers.”

Tennessee came out eager to make amends for Saturday’s lopsided loss in Gainesville. Tennessee’s starting backcourt of McRae, Richardson and Barton had shot a combined 2 of 29 for seven points against Florida.

“We knew that we were catching a dangerous animal tonight,” Kennedy said. “Their backs were against the wall a little bit early in the season just based on their last performance.”

That poor performance resulted in a lineup change. Thompson made his third career start in place of Barton, who had shot 3 of 20 over his last three games. Thompson, a freshman, responded with seven points and seven assists.

Jarnell Stokes had 13 points and 14 rebounds for Tennessee. Jeronne Maymon and Richardson each added 16 points. Stokes and Maymon helped Tennessee outrebound Mississippi 45-27 and outscore the Rebels 19-4 in second-chance points.

Tennessee also beat Mississippi at its own game by blocking eight shots, all in the first half. Mississippi entered the night ranked third among all Division I teams with 7.1 blocks per game.

After trailing by as many as 19 points in the first half, Mississippi crept back into the game thanks largely to Henderson’s shooting. Henderson sank five 3-pointers during a stretch that lasted just over five minutes and began with 1:11 left in the first half. Henderson’s flurry got Mississippi within single digits, and a 3-pointer by Ladarius White cut Tennessee’s lead to 50-45 with 14 minutes remaining.

But that’s as close as Mississippi would get.