It was a tough fought victory for the Tennessee Volunteers, but that’s to be expected when you play the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament.
Both teams got off to a slow start, scoring a combined 19 points in the first 7:00 of play. The Vols led 10-9 at this point, thanks to a couple of key buckets from both Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander.
It was pretty obvious that Mississippi State was trying to take advantage of the UT’s lack of perimeter defense, as they had taken five three-point shots by this point, but the team had made just one shot beyond the arc on the night thus far.
The Vols would stretch the lead to 17-9 thanks to a 9-0 run and some excellent minutes from John Fulkerson. A three-pointer from Admiral Schofield highlighted the run, sending every Vols fan in Bridgestone Arena into a frenzy with 9:56 left in the first half.
A Reggie Perry dunk ended the run and a five minute scoring drought, but Williams immediately responded with a dunk of his own to push the lead back up to eight, 19-11.
Both teams continued to battle back and forth, but the Vols continued to hold a six point lead with 3:13 left in the first period. Alexander led the team with eight points and four rebounds and his presence couldn’t have been more valuable.
That continued to be true as he blocked a last second shot to preserve the six point lead, 34-28, heading into halftime.
Tennessee finished the first half 16 of 33 (48 percent) from the floor while the Bulldogs finished 12 of 29 (41 percent).
The advantage was in second-chance points, where Tennessee led, 12-4. Williams showed why he was chosen as the SEC Player of the Year for two straight seasons as he led the team with 10 points.
The Vols were also moving the ball well, evidenced by 12 assists. As long as they continued to play this type of basketball, there was no reason to expect anything else but a victory.
The second half started off well for the Vols, as they immediately forced a Bulldog turnover that led to a Jordan Bone layupt to push the lead to 36-28, but Weatherspoon answered right back with ajumper of his own to cut the lead back to six.
A Perry three cut the lead to 36-33 and a few plays later, the Bulldogs had a chance to tie the game after Tyson Carter was fouled while attempting a three point shot. He could only make two of three free throws, however, and the Vols still led, 36-35.
A quick layup from Schofield pushed the lead back to 38-35, but a three from Lamar Peters tied the game at 38. Bone was able to find Williams for the easy bucket on the next possession and Tennessee was back in the lead, 40-38.
Both teams continued to battle, eventually tying at 42, but a deep three from Bone broke the tie and gave the Vols a 45-42 lead with 14:03 left to play in the game.
Later on, Weatherspoon missed a dunk, which led to an excellent play by Williams off the dribble that pushed the lead to 49-44 with 12:05 to go.
Tennessee was beginning to build some momentum, so it’d be interesting to see how Mississippi State would respond.
Well, the Bulldogs responded to the tune of cutting the lead to 49-46, but it was nothing but orange afterward.
The Vols went on a 8-0 run that was highlighted by a Schofield dunk. It wasn’t just any dunk though, as he launched himself from the foul line over Robert Woodard, posterizing the poor guy and drawing the foul at the same time. The Vols led, 57-46, with 9:53 left in the game.
MSU tried to respond with a three of their own, but an offensive rebound on UT’s next possession led to a Jordan Bowden three that put the Vols right back up, 62-49. Another turnaround three from Schofield had them up 65-51 a few plays later.
The Vols were rolling. Was there any way for the Bulldogs to stop them?
It didn’t appear so, as Tennessee continued to hold on to a double-digit lead as time wore down.
But the Bulldogs were finally able to pull within 10, but a huge Alexander rebound helped pace the lead, despite a technical foul on the center.
Fortunately for the Vols, the Bulldogs missed one free throw opportunity, but Alexander missed the first of his one-and-one opportunity. An offensive rebound gave him the chance to make for up it with a slam dunk, however, wand the Vols led 69-58 with just 4:25 left in the game.
But an Aric Holman three helped cut the lead to 69-61. Alexander responded with a jumper of his own, but Holman answered right back with another jumper to keep Tennessee’s lead at 71-63.
The Vols were able to hit another jumper, but Holman came through again with a three of his own to cut the lead to 73-66. Fortunately, the SEC Player of the Year decided to show up tonight and came through with a slam of his own to push the lead to 75-66 with 2:01 left to play.
Everything seemed wrapped up until Holman hit yet another three - this time from deep - to cut the lead to 77-70. Bone was able to hit both free throws on the next possession to give the Vols a 79-70 lead with :55 seconds left.
Tennessee would go on to win, 83-76. They will take on the Kentucky Wildcats in the semifinals for the third time this season tomorrow, March 16th. Tip-off is set for 2PM EST.