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No. 18 Vols trounce Ole Miss 94-61 for 5th straight win

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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 1/2 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.

BIG PICTURE

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.

CLOSE CALL

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.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Tennessee already has its best ranking since December 2010 and should move even higher Monday.

West Virginia’s Sagaba Konate returns to school

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The nation’s most entertaining shot-blocker is back for another season.

Sagaba Konate, a 6-foot-9 center from Mali, will return to school for his junior season to anchor West Virginia’s defense for yet another season, according to ESPN.

Konate declared for the draft and went through the combine, and while his shot-blocking and intensity shined through there as it did throughout the season, he’s more of a mid-to-late second round pick than he is a first rounder at this point.

As a sophomore, Konate averaged 10.8 points, 7.6 boards and 3.2 blocks. He also shot 79 percent from the free throw line.

So let’s sit back and enjoy what we get to see for another year:

Luke Maye to return to North Carolina for senior season

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Here’s something I never thought I’d say: Luke Maye is returning to North Carolina for his senior season, meaning that the Tar Heels will have their preseason National Player of the Year candidate back in the fold.

Who saw that coming?

“I have had a great experience learning from the NBA process and growing as a basketball player during the past couple weeks,” Maye wrote on Instagram. “I would like to thank my family, friends, coaches and teammates for all of their support. Through this process, I have decided that I am going to comeback to school to improve as a player and finish my college career. I am looking forward to the opportunities and challenges that I will face and there is no better group to do it with than my teammates and the Carolina family! Time to finish the right way with two of the best players and leaders that I know! Let’s finish our legacy the right way!”

Maye, who averaged 16.9 points and 10.1 boards as a junior, declared for the draft last month, but he did not get invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. The 6-foot-9 forward is a stretch four that will fit perfectly at the four for the Tar Heels this season, with Nassir Little, Cam Johnson and Kenny Williams on the perimeter and a trio of sophomore bigs to handle the five.

Getting Maye back was key, but expected. UNC reaching their ceiling this season will depend on whether or not their point guard play is up to par. With Jalek Felton gone and Joel Berry II graduated, that is going to come down to whether or not Seventh Woods can handle the lead guard role or if Coby White can step in and start as a freshman.

Old Dominion lands former four-star center

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Elbert Robinson came out of high school in 2014 as a borderline top-50 recruit with offers from the likes of Florida, Kansas and Louisville before he ultimately chose to attend LSU.

The 7-foot-1 center, though, never even averaged 10 minutes a game in Baton Rouge and now will be finishing his career as a graduate transfer at Old Dominion, according to multiple reports.

“Old Dominion was perfect for him,” Lawrence Johns, Robinson’s grassroots coach, told the Virginian-Pilot. “I know for a fact that nobody in (Conference USA) is over 7 feet.

“I told him to go there and show people why he was the No. 1 center the year he came out.”

Robinson, who sat out last year for medical reasons, could step right into a major role with the Monarchs, who lost their starting frontcourt this offseason. He averaged 2.1 points and 1.4 rebounds in 6.4 minutes per game last year for the Tigers.

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.