Ole Miss’ difficult season ends with tournament loss to Tennessee

Published 10:16 pm Thursday, March 9, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With a new coaching staff on the way and uncertainty about what the next era of Ole Miss basketball will bring, this group of Rebels was playing with house money in the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

They won once, but couldn’t keep the ride going Thursday against No. 17 Tennessee.

Josiah-Jordan James had game-highs of 20 points and seven rebounds, leading the fifth-seeded Volunteers past Ole Miss 70-55 in the quarterfinals.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Tennessee (23-9) will play No. 4 seed Missouri in the semifinals Friday.

Ole Miss (12-21) finished with its third losing record in four years. Three starters could return next season, but with the transfer portal and a new regime coming in — head coach Kermit Davis was fired on Feb. 24 — the Rebels were focused mostly on how they handled a difficult year.

“I want to take this time, as well, to just tell my seniors that I’m so proud of them. I thank them. I absolutely love them because they gave me every single thing that they got every single day in practice, every game,” said Ole Miss interim head coach Win Case, who went 2-3 after replacing Davis. “Tonight was no different. I just want you guys to know how much I love y’all.”

James made four 3-pointers, including a shot on the Vols’ first possession of the game. His 3 from the corner with 5 seconds left in the first half gave Tennessee a 39-33 lead at the break.

“Tennessee had the momentum going into the second half,” Case said. “That last 3-point shot by Jordan James was very tough for us to end the first half. I felt like they had the momentum going into the second half because of that 3-point shot.”

The Vols led 52-48 with 11 1/2 minutes left before increasing the margin to 64-50 on Julian Phillips’ two free throws with 7 1/2 minutes to go.

Santiago Vescovi added 15 points for the Vols, including the last five of that decisive 12-2 run. Tennessee outrebounded Ole Miss 38-22, but committed 14 turnovers.

“You look at them, I mean, sometimes you got to give the other team credit for turning you over,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “But when you’re throwing the ball in a passing lane when you know someone’s being denied, those are all fixable if you understand the value of the ball,” he said.

Myles Burns scored 14 points and also had three steals for Ole Miss. Jaemyn Brakefield and Matthew Murrell each had 12 points.

Despite having their worst record since 2017-18, the Rebels were competitive — even in this one — in most of their games. Six of their 15 SEC losses were by five points or less, and another was in overtime by eight points. They beat South Carolina in the first round of the SEC Tournament and went 2-3 with Case as the interim head coach.

Burns credited Ole Miss’ coaching staff and his teammates for maintaining their morale and work ethic even as the season slipped away.

“When you have a coaching staff like ours where it’s full of head coaches, the response to it was like a head coach. I think that’s what definitely held the team down,” Burns said. ‘We didn’t really feel any different except for we felt a little bit more motivation to play harder, just not for Coach Curran, but for Coach Case and the rest of the coaching staff. We handled it like some mature individuals.”