The Tennessee Volunteers advanced in the SEC Tournament by beating an undermanned Mississippi State Bulldog team 69-53 this afternoon at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville. The final spread of 16 points is actually representative of how the Vols dominated this afternoon, but it also hides the team's somewhat disturbing sleepy second half.
After the Bulldogs scored the game's first four points, Tennessee quickly got to 12 on four three-point plays in a row. Jordan McRae hit a three-pointer and then hit on an and-one. Sklar McBee then hit a three, which Trae Golden followed up with his own and-one. Four minutes in, and Tennessee was up 12-4.
The game was never really in doubt after that. At one point in the first half, the Vols extended the lead to 35-16, and they entered the locker room up 35-19. So at halftime, the team was halfway to Alabama, and the hope was that they'd put it to bed early in the second half and rest up the starters for the remainder of the tournament.
Instead, they put themselves to bed and slept through most of the second half. One sign that most of your team is merely going through the motions is that your three-point specialist leads all players in rebounds. Hey, somnambulism is a known hazard of big first half leads. Even we fans started losing interest as evidenced by the multiple pictures of our dogs in the game thread. It happens.
But as the time wound down, the alarm started going off and we got friendly with the snooze button.
The Bulldogs chipped away and chipped away almost the entire second half as our guys were pleasantly drooling on their pillows, and even Cuonzo Martin's best efforts couldn't wake them up. I half expected Martin to call a timeout and do nothing but pretend to snore in the huddle to make the point. At one point, you could see the guys begin to stir, but they were still groggy and couldn't really get going. And eventually, with just under five minutes to play, Mississippi State made it a single digit game.
But then -- finally -- the Vols got it together. With four and a half minutes to go, McRae drove to the basket, got a bucket, and got fouled. He missed the free throw, but Jarnell Stokes somehow wrestled the rebound away from the Bulldogs and put it right back for another two. Finally awake, it was finally over. The lead was back to 13, and the game was essentially over for the second time.
McRae led the Vols with 17 points on 6-12 shooting from the field, 1-6 from the arc, 4-6 from the line, and that sweet 360 dunk on a breakaway up top. Golden was also strong, going 6-8 from the field, 1-2 from behind the three point line, and 2-3 from the free throw line. I thought I'd read that Stokes had another double-double, but the Gametracker shows him with 10 points and only 7 rebounds. But he was big when it mattered most in the second half. Props, too, to Quinton Chievous, who had 10 points and 4 rebounds.
So was today's toying with the on/off switch a problem? Magic 8 Ball says "Ask again later." Perhaps it was a distressing lack of a killer instinct, but it could also just have been a natural side effect of conserving energy for when they think it will matter more. Hey, take it from the guy who's still recovering from a +13 hour time difference on the other side of the world a week after arriving home. Waking up is hard to do.