Things were going well for Tennessee in the first half against Mississippi State, then it all went south in a hurry. A halftime lead turned into a double-digit deficit in the second half, with the Bulldogs getting whatever they wanted in the paint on both ends of the floor.
Reggie Perry poured in 24 points on 50 percent shooting. He went 12-15 from the free throw stripe, powering Mississippi State to a dominant second half.
“I thought Fulky was not a factor today,” Rick Barnes said after the game. “He got manhandled down there. Olivier, same thing. Even Uros. You can’t play behind somebody when they’re right at the rim. We got caught with our big guys doing that.”
Offensively, John Fulkerson couldn’t make anything happen on Saturday. He ended the day shooting 2-9 for just six points. Yves Pons added two threes, but couldn’t get anything going in the paint.
More concerning? Tennessee was beaten up on the boards again, losing the rebounding battle 36-24. It was the second game in a row that the Volunteers were crushed in that category, and on the scoreboard.
“They are bigger and strong guys,” Barnes said of the rebounding issue against Mississippi State. “They are not easy to guard. They get in there and they get up on the glass. Whether it is outworked or quicker off the floor, whatever it may be, they got it done and we didn’t.”
One bright spot was the play of Uros Plavsic, who started for the first time in his Tennessee career. The big man responded with 16 points in just 26 minutes. He was able to shoot 6-12 from the field, flashing some future potential to look forward to.
“Uros showed today, for a freshman that hadn’t played in a long time, he has a chance to be a really good player,” Barnes told reporters after the game. “He missed a big bucket when he rolled, nobody between him and the rim, and he threw up a little floater. Those are the plays where he’s got to get better. Where he has to attack the rim and dunk those shots. He did a nice job. He’ll be out there.”
Tennessee has now dropped three straight games — and it’s not going to get any easier. A trip to Alabama will be difficult on Tuesday night. Home games against Arkansas and Kentucky will follow. For a team trying to figure things out on the fly, it might just get a little worse before they can get better.