Vols come up short against Mississippi State, 71-66

A career-high scoring effort from Josh Richardson could not save Tennessee from the hands of defeat.

A career-high scoring effort from Josh Richardson could not save Tennessee from the hands of defeat.

The Vols’ men’s basketball team fell for the third time at home in SEC play as they succumbed to the Mississippi State Bulldogs Tuesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena, 71-66.

Mississippi State advanced to .500 on the season at 11-11, 4-5 while Tennessee fell to 13-8, 5-4. While the Bulldogs’ record is less than impressive, they have shown signs of improvement – including a Jan. 31 win over LSU.

After the game, coach Donnie Tyndall said, “Mississippi State is the most improved team in our league. I think everyone saw that that is probably the case tonight.”

Richardson led all scorers on the night with 30 points – a new career-best. His former career-high was a 26-point effort against Mercer in last year’s NCAA tournament.

Tyndall said, “The biggest thing is, Josh [Richardson] was aggressive off the dribble and got some good looks, which is good. He had five assists, which is good.”

Kevin Punter added 10 points in the Vols’ losing effort. Armani Moore nearly eclipsed a double-double with 10 rebounds and eight points.

However, Richardson wasn’t the only big scorer Tuesday night. For Mississippi State, Craig Sword and Fred Thomas combined for 46 points and were both lights out shooting the basketball. Sword had a team-high 26 points – Thomas had 20.

On Mississippi State’s hot shooting, Tyndall added, “I think the biggest thing is, they did a good job of not settling… Our defense wasn’t what it needed to be. 56 percent overall is horrendous. 73 percent from three is bad but you have to give Mississippi State credit. I thought they played very efficient at the offensive end.”

As a team, the Vols shot 41.7 percent – a sparse comparison to the Bulldogs’ big night.

Tuesday night’s loss undoubtedly added a glaring flaw to Tennessee’s RPI. Luckily, the Vols will have a significant opportunity to improve when they face Georgia Saturday in Athens. Georgia – who is coming off a loss to unbeaten Kentucky – has an RPI rating good for 26th in the country.

Tip-off is set for noon Saturday.

Edited by Nathan Odom