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Vols Hang Tough, Fall 62-58 in Starkville

Trae Golden, with 20 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists, brought Tennessee to the brink of victory in Starkville against Mississippi State. But with the ball in hand and a chance to win, he made one of his few mistakes of the night, fumbling away a chance to win and allowing the Bulldogs to cap a 62-58 victory with an emphatic transition slam.

Yet again, it was a night of lessons for the young Vols squad, who could've folded and gotten run out of the building a number of times but kept playing tight defense and chipping their way back. However, when Tennessee had chances to win, they were simply unable to make the plays.

After trailing by 12 at multiple points during the second half, Tennessee cut the deficit to four with just over five minutes left before a string of poor plays by the Vols and great ones by Mississippi State. Tennessee came away with no points on three consecutive transition attempts, getting blocked twice and throwing a ball out of bounds. Meanwhile, Mississippi State hit a pair of clutch shots, including a three by cold-shooting Dee Bost--left open after a poor switch by Kenny Hall--to put the Bulldogs up six with 3:10 to go.

But, as they had done so many times already, Tennessee climbed back into the game when it looked like Mississippi State had finally sealed it. Some tight defense kept Mississippi State from extending the lead, and a Kenny Hall slam and a Renaldo Woolridge three (called before the play by much-loved announcer Kara Lawson) cut the Bulldog lead to two with under a minute to play.

The Vols got their stop on a steal by Skylar McBee, but they just couldn't make the final play, a common theme in a long season so far. Tennessee has shown that when they play with discipline in Cuonzo's system, they can hang tough against very good teams, particularly on defense. But their best players are either untalented or inexperienced, and the clutch plays in close games have thus far eluded them.

The Vols could've let this one get away very early, as Mississippi State hit threes and their first two possessions to take a 6-0 lead. But Tennessee toughened up on defense to keep the game even for much of the first half, even with Jeronne Maymon missing fifteen minutes after two quick fouls.

However, as has happened too often this season, Tennessee lost their offensive discipline late in the first half, and transition scoring led the Bulldogs on a 9-2 run in the last two minutes to build a 36-27 lead at the half.

Maymon's foul trouble was again a story in the second half, as he scored 13 points on 6 of 9 shooting but played just 17 minutes, committing two fouls 30 feet away from the basket and finally fouling out with 1:14 to play. Without him, Tennessee's inside game suffered, and while Kenny Hall scored 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting, Mississippi State blocked 9 shots to hold the Vols at bay.

Trae Golden led the team with 20 points on 7 of 11 shooting, 4 of 6 from beyond the arc, which helped Tennessee stay in the game despite Maymon's foul trouble and Cameron Tatum and Josh Richardson going a combined 0 of 11 from the floor. Maymon had 13 and Hall 12, with no other Vol exceeding 5. No Vol had more than 5 rebounds, with Woolridge, Maymon, and Yemi Makanjuola pulling down 5 each to lead the team. Golden led the team with 4 assists but also had 5 costly turnovers.

After struggling to bring the ball up the court against Florida, Wes Washpun did not see the floor in Starkville, with Josh Richardson taking over as the backup point guard.

Tennessee, as you well know, is back in action Saturday at noon against #2 Kentucky at Thompson-Boling Arena, their third straight game against a ranked opponent. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.