Well, at least that was the thought until tip-off.
The Vols absolutely drilled the Bulldogs, 71-54, thanks to a suffocating defense and insane effort. The Bulldogs were no match, despite trailing just 31-25 at the half.
Admiral Schofield started off quickly, scoring five of the team’s first seven points, but back-to-back three point shots from Tyson Carter kept the Bulldogs within a point, 7-6. Both teams battled back and forth until a 10-10 tie was broken due to extraordinary hustle from John Fulkerson and Lamonte Turner. Their effort gave Jordan Bowden an opportunity to find Grant Williams down low for the easy layup and 12-10 lead.
State tied it back up, but Kyle Alexander drained one from the elbow to put Tennessee back up. The Bulldogs had missed five shots in a row at this point, but a Quinndary Weatherspoon three ended that drought and handed his team a 15-14 advantage.
But Schofield came through with another three pointer and then another jumper just a few shots later to help put Tennessee build a 22-15 lead off an 8-0 run. Schofield was 4 of 4 - including 2 of 2 from three - and had 10 of the team’s 22 points.
Mississippi State, on the other hand, was in a funk. With 7:59 left in the first half, the Bulldogs were just 5 of 18 from the field. They had eight turnovers - including three straight at that point - compared to zero assists and only two points in the paint.
The Vols stretched the run to 10-0 and led 24-15, but the Bulldogs answered right back with a 10-2 run of their own, cutting Tennessee’s lead to just one point, 26-25 with 3:25 to go in the first half.
Tennessee went through a tough stretch of their own during that span, shooting 2 of 8 overall. Mississippi State had also outrebounded them 19-15, despite the Vols’ 10 rebounds on the offensive glass.
But a last second layup from Turner helped the Vols finish the first half on a 5-0 run as they lead 31-25.
MSU started 5 of 18, but made 5 of their last 11 shots over the final 7:36 of the first half. Carter led the team with eight points on 3 of 4 shooting, while Schofield led the Vols with 11 points on 4 of 7 shooting.
Kyle Alexander finally surfaced as well, recording seven rebounds in 14 minutes of play.
Tennessee’s defense and ability to get the extra rebound were key in leading the first half, but the offense would have to get better (13 of 30) if the team wanted to win.
The offense did just that, starting the half on an 8-2 run, but it was also helped by a dismal Bulldog offense that couldn’t make any shots.
The offensive dysfunction came to a head when Reggie Perry rejected himself attempting a dunk of his own offensive rebound. The missed dunk flew out of bounds and it was Tennessee ball with a 39-27 lead with 15:44 left in the game.
The lead grew to 43-27 thanks to seven missed shots in a row by the Bulldogs. Lamar Peters finally ended the misery with a layup, but Mississippi State continued to struggle.
A Jalen Johnson three-pointer pushed the lead to 48-29 and Tennessee was off to the races from that point on.
The Bulldogs couldn’t keep up as Tennessee pretty much held a 20+ point lead for the rest of the game.
A great moment came with about 2:41 left in the game as the Vols led, 68-47. Both Schofield and Alexander went to the bench as the crowd stood and applauded both seniors. Rick Barnes then brought in seniors Brad Woodson and Lucas Campbell so they could finish out their careers on the hardwood.
And it was a perfect ending as Woodson made the final three-pointer and Campbell grabbed the final rebound as the Vols would go on to win, 71-54.
Schofield led the Vols with 18 points while Williams finished with a double-double (14 points, 10 rebounds).
Tennessee (27-3, 15-2) will finish out the season on the road against the Auburn Tigers (20-9, 9-7) on Saturday, March 9th. Tip-off is scheduled for 12PM EST.
You can check out the final score and stats here. You can also check out our post game podcast below.