All season long, one particular aspect of this Tennessee team that has always been consistent is the defense. Tonight, they put on arguably their best performance of the season.
The Vols traveled to Starkville to face off against a Mississippi State team with an 18-1 home record and had scored an average of 82 points over their last five games. The Vols absolutely destroyed State - winners of seven of their last nine - holding them to one of their lowest scoring totals of the season.
It was pretty simple. The Bulldogs couldn’t handle Tennessee’s physicality and there was plenty evidence of that early on. The Vols drove through State’s big men, while getting to the line 16 times in the first half and 23 times overall.
Admiral Schofield had another outstanding night, leading the team with 24 points on 9/18 shooting, and tied for the team lead in rebounds again with seven. He was his usual physical self as well, making play after play based off of hustle and effort alone.
But things didn’t start out so well for Tennessee, however, as Mississippi State came out hot behind a raucous crowd.
The Bulldogs were able to build an early 25-17 lead in the first half while shooting 55% from the field, but that didn't phase the Vols as they came roaring back, riding a 15-5 run on some insanely great plays to take the lead, 32-30.
Jordan Bowden knocked the ball out of center Abdul Ado’s hands, leading to a jumper by Jordan Bone to tie the game, 25-25. Mississippi State responded immediately, regaining the lead by three, but James Daniel III drained a three-pointer nearly from half court as the shot clock expired to tie the game back up, 30-30. Derrick Walker would get a nice assist from Grant Williams to break the tie at 32, and UT finally began to find their footing.
The Vols used their intense defense to hold the Bulldogs to just one FG over the last five minutes of the first half, as they compiled a 40-34 lead heading into halftime.
For the second straight game, Schofield led the team in scoring at halftime with 11 points. Even though he only hit around 30% of his shots, his physical play allowed him multiple trips to the line - where he excelled - nailing 5/6 of his attempts.
He didn’t stop there, either. Schofield came out and scored on the first possession of the second half for UT, while scoring four of the team’s first six points. As he continued to pound State, so did the Vols’ defense.
The defense took the momentum from the first half and carried it into the second, allowing just one made shot over the first 6 1⁄2 minutes. The Bulldogs went 1-8 from the field while the Vols went 4-4 during one stretch, resulting in a 14-point lead for Tennessee, 56-42.
Mississippi State went 6/21 from the field in the second half. The Vols forced seven turnovers, scoring seven points off of those turnovers and only allowed the Bulldogs to record eight total rebounds during the last twenty minutes of the game.
But the defense wasn’t the entire story of the game. The offense had one of its best games of the season - especially in the second half. The Vols outscored the Bulldogs 59-29 in the second half on 15/22 shooting. Tennessee shot 55% from the field for the night.
The offense was anchored by great post play on the inside. The Vols received contributions from all over the roster, especially from freshmen Yves Pons and Derrick Walker.
“I thought everyone that went in the game made good plays for us.” - Rick Barnes
This allowed the Vols to make 11 consecutive shots at one point in the second half as they cruised to one of their biggest wins of the season, 76-54.
Up next is a chance for revenge and a possible shot at the number one seed in the SEC Tournament as the Vols host the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, March 3rd in Thompson-Boling Arena. Tip off is at 6PM ET.
Stats from the game:
- Lamonte Turner finished second on the team in points with 12, but what’s most impressive is that he was a perfect 6-6 shooting on the night. He went 4/4 from the field, making both of his three-point attempts and both free throw attempts.
- Tennessee allowed just two made shots over an 11-minute span throughout the game.
- The Vols made 13 consecutive free throw attempts to begin the night.