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SEC Tournament: Tennessee handles Mississippi State, 72-59

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Mississippi State v Tennessee Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Tennessee’s SEC Tournament began as it usually does — a game against Mississippi State. For the third time in the last four tournaments, the Volunteers faced the Bulldogs in the quarterfinal round.

The winner would punch their ticket to the semifinal round, awaiting the winner of Kentucky-Vanderbilt.

Kennedy Chandler Injury

This one began with a scare, and then a collective sigh of relief. Tennessee’s star point guard Kennedy Chandler went down after rolling his ankle, and could hardly put any weight on it. Chandler went to the locker room shortly after for examination.

Thankfully after just a few minutes in the tunnel, Chandler returned to the sidelines and immediately re-entered the game.

Tennessee settled in an established an early lead from there. Santiago Vescovi and Chandler each hit three-pointers, while Brandon Huntley-Hatfield connected on a couple of interior opportunities.

The Volunteers raced out to a 28-20 lead, but Iverson Molinar and D.J. Jeffries kept the Bulldogs in it early, both starting 3-3 from the field. And then Tennessee went on one of their patented cold streaks offensively, allowing Mississippi State to tie the game up at 30-30.

Zakai Zeigler snapped that drought with a three, but the Mississippi State offense was rolling and able to match. Tennessee was able to take a 39-37 lead into halftime, thanks to 11 first half Mississippi State turnovers.

Chandler began the second half just as he began the first — hitting the deck after reaggravating that ankle. It became apparent that he wasn’t 100 percent, and Chandler took to the bench once again.

Josiah-Jordan James takeover

Josiah-Jordan James hit a couple of triples to give Tennessee some breathing room early in the second half. He hit another to give the Vols an eight point lead with 16 minutes left to play. He hit another to give them an 11 point lead.

With Chandler sidelined, James was picking up the slack, and then some. Chandler could be seen keeping his ankle loose in the tunnel, but I’m sure Rick Barnes was hoping his team could put Mississippi State away without his services for the rest of the night.

The Bulldogs were running through center Tolu Smith, and he was effective. Very quickly, Smith was into double figures and Tennessee didn’t have many answers for him down low at the time. Luckily for Tennessee, Mississippi State couldn’t handle Triple-J.

The Tennessee lead was 57-48 with 11 minutes remaining.

Tennessee puts them away, Chandler returns

Huntley-Hatfield scored his 10th point of the game out of the timeout. The former five-star prospect was very involved in the offense in the second half, making the most of his minutes tonight.

Zeigler drained a couple of jumpers to really get a stranglehold on this game.

Despite the 15 point lead, Kennedy Chandler was able to get back in the game with 8:30 left. The story of this game though was Tennessee’s response without Chandler on the floor, able to build a 15 point lead over a decent Mississippi State team without him.

Tennessee coasted to the finish line tonight, winning 72-59.

Josiah-Jordan James finished with 16 points. Zeigler, Huntley-Hatfield, Vescovi and Chandler each found double figures.

Tennessee now awaits the winner of Kentucky/Vanderbilt, which tips off shortly in Tampa. Tip-off tomorrow is scheduled for 3 p.m. ET, but we’ll likely have to push that back a bit with Arkansas/Texas A&M tipping off at 1 p.m. ET.