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Vols Hold Off Bulldogs, 56-53

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Tennessee hangs on in a close game

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

If this game was a parable, it would have been the tortoise and the tortoise instead of the tortoise and the hare.

Tennessee started the game off on a 6-2 run that was capped off by some sweet interior passing from John Fulkerson to Yves Pons. The Vols soon increased that lead to 15-4 on a Jaden Springer jumper and two Springer assists (with Santiago Vescovi on the bench 8^).

Unfortunately for Tennessee, the Vols managed just two points in the next 5.5-ish minutes. UT got a couple John Fulkerson free throws and an Anosike layup, then managed just six more points in the last nearly eight (!!!) minutes of the first half.

I mentioned the game’s snail-like pace: the Vols limped into halftime clinging to a 26-23 lead. These two squads were nearly identically bad shooting in the game’s first period — Miss St. shot 9-26 and 1-8 from 3 while UT shot 8-26 and 1-11 from 3.

State went on a 9-4 run after halftime and stretched its lead out to as many five points thanks in part to a strong effort on the offensive glass. The Bulldogs came into the game as the nation’s 9th-best offensive rebounding team, which was never a good matchup for this Tennessee team that’s struggled to keep opposing teams off the offensive glass all year (and last year). Mississippi State ended up collecting 15 offensive boards on the night but only converted those into 10 points. They missed several chances to add to that total at the free-throw line, going a collective 16-23.

State ended up leading the game for more than 13 of the 20 minutes in the second half, but some costly turnovers hurt their chances at a victory. The Bulldogs finished the game 18 total turnovers that the Vols turned into 23 points.

Yves Pons led the scoring charge for the UT with 13 points on an efficient 6-9 shooting from the field. Springer’s first game back after missing Tennessee’s last two contests was a relative success — he had nine points, four rebounds, five assists and looked comfortable manning the lead guard position when Vescovi was out of the game.

Fellow freshman Keon Johnson also had a good game with eight points, three steals and two blocks. Johnson’s hands on defense continue to be impressive — he’s always getting his paws on the ball when the dribbler is being loose with his handle.

Vescovi has caught plenty of ire from Vol fans this season, and I can understand that to some degree. He hurt his hip against Florida but still played 25 minutes in that game and 38 more against Missouri while still not at full strength. Against the Bulldogs, he had maybe the best all-around game of any Vol with seven points, two 3s, seven rebounds, two assists and four steals.

Tennessee’s next matchup is against no. 15 Kansas at 6 PM in Knoxville.