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Five Things: Vols rough up Rebs

Let’s take a quick look at Five Things from Tennessee’s 86-70 win over Ole Miss on Wednesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Tennessee's Josh Richardson knocks the ball away from Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson during the Vols' 86-70 win over the Rebels on Wednesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena. Henderson's 26 points weren't enough. (News Sentinel photo)

The Vols (13-7, 4-3 SEC) jumped all over the Rebels (14-6, 5-2) in the opening minutes and never relinquished the lead, answering Ole Miss‘ early second-half surge with a big run to put away the game with plenty of time still on the clock.

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THE WHEELS HAVEN’T COME OFF, AFTER ALL

The ugliness of Tennessee’s loss at sixth-ranked Florida on Saturday led many to wonder whether the Vols were starting to leak oil, and whether the wheels were about come spinning off.

Well ... that definitely wasn’t the case Wednesday. Tennessee, with a new primary point guard in tow, never trailed in a thorough win over the SEC’s second-place team.

Don’t look now, but the Vols are tied for fourth in the SEC despite already playing at Florida, Kentucky and LSU — three of the league’s best teams.

Perhaps a strong stretch run is in order. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s indeed the case, but regardless, Wednesday was a big win in many ways for a team that absolutely needed it. Ole Miss was good enough to leave Knoxville with a win, and the Vols didn’t let it happen.

And to top it off, the Vols were able to avoid another embarrassing, come-from-ahead loss on their home floor. Some worried Wednesday was shaping up to be another Texas A&M game when the Rebels trimmed a 19-point lead to six early in the second half, but the Vols calmly steadied themselves and got the job done.

Vols freshman point guard Darius Thompson (News Sentinel photo)

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PERHAPS THE VOLS DO HAVE A POINT GUARD, AFTER ALL

Tennessee tweaked its starting lineup Wednesday, putting freshman Darius Thompson in senior Antonio Barton’s first-team point guard spot.

“It was time,” almost-always-that-subtle Vols coach Cuonzo Martin said.

Well ... it worked.

Thompson had seven points, seven assists, two steals, two rebounds and just two turnovers in 23 efficient minutes.

More importantly, Tennessee clearly pushed the ball harder with Thompson in the lineup — something at least two players freely admitted to govols247 after the game.

Thompson is still hesitant during games to show the sweet shooting stroke that he consistently shows in practice, but the Vols don’t necessarily need him to show it just yet. But they do need him to push the ball and push the team — at least as much as an incredibly introverted kid can push his peers. And Thompson did that well Wednesday night.

Vols' Josh Richardson and Armani Moore block a shot Wednesday night. (KNS photo)

He needs to keep doing that, though, because the Vols next game — Saturday at Alabama — comes in the home gym of star point guard Trevor Releford.

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SEE THE 3, BE THE 3

Just a few days after stinking up the O’Dome with a 1-of-19 performance from 3-point range, the Vols were 11-of-20 from 3 against Ole Miss.

From 5.3 percent to 55 percent. In one game.

It’s amazing what a couple of long-range shots will do for an offense.

Credit the Vols for showing some pride and focus after Florida stomped them over the weekend.

Now, of course, let’s see what they do at Alabama. Who knows at this point?

Vols' Jordan McRae (KNS photo)

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ARMANI MOORE IS A DIFFERENCE-MAKER

Armani Moore played 21 minutes Wednesday night, and he didn’t take a shot from the floor. Not one. Not a single, solitary one.

But who could question Moore’s impact on the Vols, especially in this game?

Moore finished with just two points courtesy of a quick cameo at the free-throw line, but the junior guard did what he does. He brought an incredible amount of energy off the bench, and he blocked three shots — all in the first half. He also had four rebounds, three assists and only one turnover.

The Vols just seem to be a better team with Moore in the rotation. His freakish shot-blocking ability for a 6-foot-5 guard changes possessions, and those often lead to transition buckets for his team.

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HOLY COW, MARSHALL HENDERSON CAN SHOOT

Vols' Jarnell Stokes (KNS photo)

The quickest draw in the SEC nearly fired Ole Miss back into the game Wednesday night.

Senior guard Marshall Henderson scored a co-game-high 26 points — matching a similarly stellar effort from his friend, Vols senior All-SEC guard Jordan McRae — on 8-of-19 shooting from long range.

And Henderson did all that despite leaving the floor in the first minute with what seemed to be a painful hip.

Junior guard Josh Richardson lost track of Henderson a few times early in the second half, and Henderson made him pay with a couple of long-range bombs. Henderson also hit a couple of tough, off-balance 3s, and a couple of just-as-impressive heaves in transition, and he was 7-of-13 at one point.

And, as usual, he energized his team while putting fear into an opposing team’s coaches, players and fan base. He single-handedly quieted Thompson-Boling a few times.

The Vols didn’t wilt, though. McRae — who was 6-of-7 from long range Wednesday night — switched onto Henderson, and he practically shut him down in the final minutes.

Make no mistake, though: The Marshall still made his mark on this game. He just didn’t make a big-enough mark to beat a Tennessee team that was playing pretty well on its home floor and was controlling everything in the paint.

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Contact Wes Rucker at wrucker@247sports.com, www.twitter.com/wesrucker247 or www.facebook.com/wesrucker247

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