The Tennessee Volunteers (9-5, 1-1) traveled to CoMo on Tuesday night in hopes of earning its first SEC win against the Missouri Tigers (8-6, 0-2), which was also searching for its first conference win of the year.
An 11-point second half from Josiah James and 46% shooting from 3 anchored Tennessee’s first SEC win of the year as the Vols were also able to overcome 21 turnovers in the win.
The Vols had four players with 11 points - including James - and shot 53% from the floor as a whole. Tray Jackson led the Tigers with 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting.
Yves Pons made the first shot attempt of the game for both teams to give Tennessee an early 2-0 lead and Tennessee was actually able to establish an inside game in order build a 8-5 lead within the first 5:00 of the first half. The Vols had scored six straight points after initially going down 8-5.
Missouri was able to tie it up right back with a quick 3 and retook the lead off a jumper a few plays later. Jordan Bowden immediately responded with a trey of his own, however, to put the Vols back up, 11-10.
Both teams struggled with turnovers during the first 10:00 of the game. The Vols and Tigers combined for 13 turnovers during that span. If either team wanted a shot at winning the game, they would have to cut out the mistakes.
Back-to-back treys put the Vols up 26-20 with about 6:00 left in the first half, but a 7-0 run helped allowed the Tigers to go up one point, 27-26 with just 3:44 left in the first half. The Vols were in the middle of a 2:44 scoring drought, while the Tigers had made five of their last seven shots.
A trip to the charity stripe netted another point to help increase Missouri’s lead to 28-26, but John Fulkerson was able to tie the game back up at 28-28 and simultaneously end Tennessee’s scoring drought. Tennessee had gone over 4:00 without making a basket and shot 1-of-7 from the floor.
The Vols were able to take the back lead thanks to two Jalen Johnson free throws and two more Fulkerson free throws pushed the lead to 32-28 with under a minute left in the first half. Tennessee would eventually go into halftime leading by four points.
Turnovers were the story of the first half. Tennessee committed 11, while Missouri had 9 themselves. The sloppy play gave Missouri 12 free points, while the Vols could only get four points out of the Tigers’ turnovers.
But it was also an exciting first half of basketball that featured five ties and six lead changes. Tennessee shot 48% from the floor (11-of-23) that included 4-of-11 from 3 while the Tigers shot 36% (10-of-28) that included a 5-of-15 mark from 3. Jalen Johnson led the Vols with 11 points at halftime and Kobe Brown led the Tigers with six points.
Tennessee’s offense was playing fine outside of the mistakes and the defense was largely effective outside of a few open 3s that Missouri was able to take advantage of. The Vols could not sit idly, however, and expect to win their first SEC game of the year.
A James 3 got the second half off to a perfect start by draining a 3 from the corner, giving Tennessee its largest lead of the game, which was a 35-28 advantage. Pons drilled another 3 on the Vols’ next possession to push the lead to 38-28. The Vols were now on a 12-0 run and didn’t show any signs of slowing down in the first 2:00 of the second half.
Junior Mitchell Smith finally ended Missouri’s misery with a 3 to cut the lead to 38-31. That shot would be the catalyst in a 12-2 run that allowed Mizzou to tie the game up, 40-40 with 13:30 left in the game.
James ended Tennessee’s scoring drought with a 3 of his own and it couldn’t have come at a better time as it broke the tie and gave the Vols a 43-40 lead, but the Tigers just wouldn’t go away as they scored five unanswered points to go back up, 45-43. Another James shot - this time a jumper - kept the duel going and retied the game at 45-45. Pons came through a few possessions later with a jumper to break the tie and give the Vols a 47-45 advantage with just over 11:00 to go.
Smith was hit with a dead-ball technical a few plays later as he tried to steal the ball from Santiago Vescovi. He and Vescovi got tied up near the sideline and Smith swung his arm in a punching motion (intent not speculated) as he and Vescovi continued to fight for the ball. Vescovi hit his first free throw, but missed the next as the Vols mustered just one of three points from the foul.
Javon Pickett’s first bucket of the game allowed the Tigers to tie the score back up at 48-48 with about 8:30 minutes left in the game. The Vols were now in the middle of a 2:50 scoring drought while the Tigers were 5-of-7 from the floor in their last seven shots.
The effective offensive output continued as Mark Smith drained a trey over Johnson to break the 48-48 tie, but it didn’t deter the Vols. Both teams continued to make plays, but the Tigers were able to maintain a three-point lead until James hit yet another 3-point shot to tie the game at 53. Vescovi added a clutch three on the next possession and the Vols were back up, 56-53.
Drew Smith fouled out on the next play as he collided with Pons on his way to the basket. Not only did the Tigers lose one of their key contributors, but it allowed the Vols to reclaim possession of the basketball. Vescovi made Smith and the Tigers pay with another 3 on the following possession, but he saved the best for last as he stole the Tigers’ inbound pass on the next play and took it to the hoop for an easy bucket. The Vols now led, 61-53 with 4:10 left in the game.
The Tigers continued to fight, but it just wasn’t enough as the Vols would go on to win, 69-59.
Tennessee will host the South Carolina Gamecocks in Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday, January 11. Tipoff is currently set for 1PM EST.