KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Mississippi coach Andy Kennedy attempted to downplay his new membership in an exclusive fraternity.
Sebastian Saiz had 23 points and 11 rebounds Saturday as Ole Miss closed the regular season with an 83-60 victory over Tennessee, which went over 14 minutes without a basket in the first half. The victory allowed Ole Miss (20-11, 10-8 SEC) to clinch its eighth 20-win season in Kennedy’s 10-year coaching tenure.
Ole Miss had just seven 20-win campaigns in 96 seasons before Kennedy’s arrival. The only other SEC coaches to have at least eight 20-win seasons in their first 10 years in the league are Billy Donovan, Joe B. Hall, Nolan Richardson and Tubby Smith, according to STATS LLC.
“I don’t really take time to reflect on that unless I’m at the beach sometimes, trying to win a bet,” Kennedy said. “You could win a bet off that question, (asking) which one doesn’t belong, like on ‘Sesame Street.’
“For me, it just shows that perseverance pays off. At Ole Miss, it’s never easy. You’ve got to have the right mentality and the right approach, and that is to grind. Typically people don’t like to grind because grinding’s hard. But that’s what we have to do.”
Three days after getting a career-high 43 points in Ole Miss’ victory over Mississippi State, SEC scoring leader Stefan Moody went scoreless in the first half and battled foul trouble before finishing with 12 points in 21 minutes.
Ole Miss still handed Tennessee (13-18, 6-12) its most lopsided home loss since an 88-63 setback against Vanderbilt on Jan. 8, 2005.
Tennessee was playing a fifth straight game without leading scorer Kevin Punter Jr., who is undergoing season-ending surgery Tuesday to repair a stress fracture in his right foot. Tennessee’s Robert Hubbs III returned after missing two games with an injured right knee, but he was scoreless in six minutes off the bench.
After beating LSU 81-65 in its first game without Punter, Tennessee has lost four straight by an average margin of 19 points.
“Today we weren’t very good in any area of the game,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “They pretty much beat us any way you want to beat a team. I hate that for our seniors because I wish we could have finished on a good note for them, but we’ve just really lost our confidence, which is a tough thing to bring back because Kevin had a lot to do with that obviously.”
Tomasz Gielo scored 16 points and Martavious Newby had 10 points and 10 rebounds for Ole Miss, which shot 11 of 25 from 3-point range. Devon Baulkman scored 18, Armani Moore had 13 and Admiral Schofield added 12 for Tennessee.
Moody picked up his second foul less than seven minutes into the game and sat out the rest of the first half, but Ole Miss outscored Tennessee 22-11 during that stretch.
After Moore scored to give Tennessee an 11-9 lead with 14:56 left in the first half, the Vols wouldn’t make another basket for a span of 14 minutes, 4 seconds.
Ole Miss: The Rebels have won eight of their last 11 SEC games after getting off to a 2-5 start in league competition.
Tennessee: This marked the final regular-season game for the senior class of Punter, Moore, Baulkman and forward Derek Reese. Each of the seniors received a framed jersey in a pregame ceremony. Punter was introduced again during a timeout in the second half, and he waved to the crowd while receiving a standing ovation.
The vast majority of Tennessee’s student section behind one basket dressed in black to protest the Tennessee Senate Education Committee’s vote to defund the university’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. On a few occasions during the game, the students chanted and held up signs that spelled out “UT Diversity Matters.”
Although the Rebels have 20 wins, they likely must capture next week’s SEC tournament to earn an NCAA bid. Ole Miss entered the day 91st in the RPI.
“We probably need to be playing on Sunday (the day of the championship game) to give ourselves any chance,” Kennedy said.
Ole Miss faces Alabama on Thursday in the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tennessee.
Tennessee faces Auburn on Wednesday in the first round of the SEC tournament in Nashville, Tennessee.
This story has been corrected to add Nolan Richardson and to remove Rick Pitino from the list of SEC coaches who had at least eight 20-win seasons in their first 10 years in the league.
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