No. 2 seed Tennessee outlasts Mississippi state in SEC Tournament quarterfinals

Seventh-seeded Mississippi State’s (22-11, 9-9 SEC) surge came too late to upset No. 2 seed and 13th-ranked Tennessee on Friday, falling 62-59 to the in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. Defense kept Tennessee on its feet late in the game. The orange-and-white shot just 33 percent from the field in the win.

Rebounding made the difference for the Volunteers. Tennessee outrebounded the Bulldogs by an impressive 50-33 margin and snagged 22 offensive rebounds in the contest. The Volunteers’ 50 rebounds tied a season-high record. They tallied 22 second-chance points in the win.

“We know that our biggest Achilles heel all year has been rebounding,” Volunteers Head Coach Rick Barnes said. “We talked about it a lot, not so much offensively where we want to go get it but trying to do it on the defensive end.”

Sophomore guard and SEC Co-Sixth Man of the Year Lamonte Turner led Tennessee with 15 points and eight rebounds. Grant Williams and Admiral Schofield were the only other Vols in double-digit points. They combined for 23 points and 19 rebounds. Williams, who was recently named SEC Player of the Year, notched his first double-double of the season Friday.

Tennessee controlled the lead for the majority of the game until guard Lamar Peters led Mississippi State on a 9-2 run. The Bulldogs cut the deficit to just 51-49 with over six minutes left. However, Turner turned up clutch again for the Vols, making three consecutive shots to hold off the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State failed to capitalize with under a minute left. Guard Xavier Stapleton missed an open attempt from beyond-the-arc that would have given the Bulldogs a lead. The next possession, Tennessee guard Jordan Bone was intentionally fouled and hit both free throws at the charity stripe to put the Vols up 62-59.

The Bulldogs found a chance to send the game into overtime at the final buzzer but were unable to get a shot off. Peters and junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon led Mississippi State with a combined 49 of the team’s 59 points on the loss.

Nick Weatherspoon, freshman guard and younger brother of Quinndary, suffered a scary injury and left the floor on a stretcher after Vols center Kyle Alexander collided with him underneath the rim. News released later Friday night confirmed Weatherspoon was conscious and fully operational at the hospital.

“You pray for then and you have a moment where you have to take a step back, but it’s still a game,” Williams said of Weatherspoon’s injury. “You still have to compete. That’s what you have to understand. You have to talk to your team and let them know we’ve got a 20-minute game left.”

The win boosted Tennessee’s streak to 6-0 against teams in rematch games this season. Barnes and the Volunteers get back in action against Arkansas in the Scottrade Center at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Edited by Seth Raborn/Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 13 Tennessee faces Mississippi State in SEC Tournament quarterfinals

After beating LSU, No.7 seed Mississippi State (22-10, 9-9 SEC) takes on second-seeded Tennessee SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The Volunteers secured a double-bye to start the tournament. The Vols take on the Bulldogs as their first tournament contest Friday at 7 p.m. ET. St. Louis’ Scottrade Center hosts the tournament for the first time in SEC Tournament history. The SEC Network and ESPN feature the matchups.

In the last meeting between the teams Feb. 27, the Vols edged out the Bulldogs in Starkville by a score of 76-54 in the Humphrey Coliseum. Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield led the team with his second consecutive 24-point game. He also added seven rebounds in the win. The Vols dominated Mississippi State on the boards by a 44-34 margin and forced the Bulldogs to shoot just 20 percent from beyond-the-arc.

Thursday night, Mississippi State squeaked out an 80-77 win over 10th-seeded LSU (17-14, 8-10 SEC). Sophomore guard Lamar Peters notched a season-high 24 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field in the win. Brothers Quinndary and Nick Weatherspoon combined for 30 points, as the Bulldogs shot a hot 58 percent from the field.

LSU outrebounded Mississippi State 31-28. The Bulldogs tallied 16 turnovers on the night, but nearly 60 percent shooting from the field and 10-of-17 shooting from 3-point range led them to the SEC Tournament quarterfinals. The Weatherspoon brothers (25 points per game) and junior forward Aric Holman all lead the team with over an average of over 10 points per game.

Head coach Rick Barnes and the Volunteers look for their fifth-straight win on Friday. Barnes is a career 6-1 against the Bulldogs. A win keeps Tennessee’s perfect record (5-0) when they play teams more than once this season.

The orange-and-white haven’t hit the floor since beating Georgia 66-61 to be named Co-SEC Champions nearly a week ago.

“We are ready to play,” sophomore forward Grant Williams said. “That’s how we are, when we have a stretch without a game, we want to play.”

Admiral Schofield added he would rather be playing instead of waiting through the double-bye.

The dominant Schofield and Williams duo combined for 45 points, as Tennessee earned the SEC Champions title for the first time in a decade. Playing clean basketball led the Vols to glory. They committed just four turnovers against Georgia despite being outrebounded.

Tennessee will play its first game since Barnes and two of his players earned postseason SEC awards. Barnes earned SEC Head Coach of the Year, while Williams earned SEC Player of the Year honors. Sophomore guard Lamonte Turner got in on the action after being nominated as SEC Co-Sixth Man of the Year.

“I just want our guys to go out and do what we’ve done and build on what we’ve done,” Barnes said. “Your goal is to play three days in a row… I do think we’ve got to get going a little bit.”

The Vols seek a win to make it to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the first time since 2014 under head coach Donnie Tyndall. If Tennessee wins, they will take on the winner of No. 6 seed Arkansas and third-seeded Florida Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.

Edited by Ben McKee/Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics 

Tennessee basketball earns SEC postseason awards

After finishing with a 23-7 record and winning their first regular season SEC Championship in a decade, the Volunteers received more good news on Tuesday. Head coach Rick Barnes received SEC Coach of the Year, while forward Grant Williams (SEC Player of the Year) and guard Lamonte Turner (Co-SEC Sixth Man of the Year) also brought in hardware.

Media picked Barnes and Tennessee to finish 13th in the SEC in the preseason. The Vols finished the year with a 13-5 conference record and a co-conference Championship. Under Barnes, the Vols picked up seven more wins in 2018 than they had last season with an even 16-16 record.

Tennessee managed to go a perfect 5-0 against their conference rivals in Kentucky, Vanderbilt and Florida. The Vols also went 8-4 on the road this season. Barnes racked up his fourth conference championship as a head coach with a win over Georgia last Saturday. This conference title marks his first as head coach of the Volunteers.

Only eight other coaches for the orange-and-white received the honor of SEC Coach of the Year. This award marks Barnes’ sixth Coach of the Year honor.

Sophomore forward Grant Williams brought in the first award of his career, as his 16 points per game led Tennessee to its first 20-win season since 2014. Williams became just the 12th Tennessee player to bring in an SEC Player of the Year award. He is the first underclassman to do so since the legendary Bernard King.

Not surprisingly, sophomore guard Lamonte Turner also brought in an award for Tennessee. His clutch 3-point shooting powered his team to an SEC Championship.

Turner won Co-Sixth Man of the Year by averaging just over 10 points per game and being the Volunteers third leading scorer on the season. He shared the award with 6-foot-11 Missouri freshman Jontay Porter who averaged nearly 10 points and seven rebounds per game.

Last but not least, junior forward Admiral Schofield earned a spot as a second-team All-SEC player. He scored over 10 points in 15-of-18 conference games this season. Schofield led the team in minutes played and had the second most points averaged on the team with nearly 14 points per game.

The No. 2 seed and 13th-ranked Volunteers get back into action Friday in the SEC Tournament in St. Louis. Tennessee will face the winner of Mississippi State and LSU at 7 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

Edited by Ben McKee 

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Schofield, Williams lead Tennessee to SEC Championship win over Georgia

Head Coach Rick Barnes and No. 16 Tennessee finished off Georgia by a score of 66-61 to be named SEC Champions for the first time since 2008. Barnes earned his first win over Georgia Head Coach Mark Fox as head coach of the Volunteers. Forwards Admiral Schofield and Grant Williams combined for 55 points in the win.

The Vols got out of the gates quick with a 5-0 run, including a friendly roll on a 3-pointer from forward Admiral Schofield. However, the Bulldogs found their footing and took their first lead at the 16:41 mark. Georgia went on a 9-0 run behind a pair of 3-pointers to go up 9-5 after nearly five minutes of play.

Both teams hit a three-minute slump at the 14-minute mark. The teams combined for 7-of-23 shooting halfway through the first half. Tennessee started out cold at the butt-end of a 13-3 run from the Bulldogs with 16 minutes left in the half. But the Volunteers heated back up.

“I thought they were terrific in the first half, I thought we guarded well,” Barnes said. “We stayed with it…We were battling every possession.”

The orange-and-white finally knotted the game back up with 10:51 remaining in the first half with a driving layup from Williams. Georgia didn’t let up, as the Bulldogs went on an 8-0 run to make it a 21-13 game after Williams’ bucket.

Following a pair of questionable technical fouls called on Schofield and Bulldog Nicolas Claxton, Georgia finished five of its next six shots to go up 27-21 with less than seven minutes left.

The Volunteers did not score for the next three minutes. Schofield nailed a jumper at the 4:51 mark to put Tennessee within four points of the lead. Schofield made 4-of-7 shots, while the rest of his teammates went just 5-of-19 from the field with less than four minutes remaining in the first half.

However, Schofield’s efforts, 12 first half points, were not enough to put the Vols back in the lead. Tennessee fell behind 42-34 at the half. Georgia was a hot 58 percent from the field and 7-of-12 from 3-point range at the half. Meanwhile, the Volunteers were an abysmal 36 percent from beyond-the-arc and 34 percent from the field.

The Bulldogs gave Tennessee fits to start the second half. The Volunteers did not make a field goal for four minutes starting at the 19-minute mark. However, Tennessee managed to cut the deficit to 45-44 with back-to-back buckets from Schofield. The Vols forced a more than six-minute scoring drought from the Bulldogs who missed seven straight shots starting at the 19-minute mark.

Georgia finally stopped the drought with a layup from Claxton with more than 11 minutes left to play in the game. Still, Tennessee’s Lamonte Turner drilled a deep 3-point shot to tie the game up at 49 and turn the tide for the orange-and-white.

The Volunteers notched their first significant lead of the game at 55-53 with another clutch 3-point shot from Turner with a little more than six minutes left in the game.

Three minutes later, Williams fouled out on a questionable call, but Turner answered again for Tennessee with yet another 3-pointer to cut the Bulldogs lead to 61-60. A pair of free throws from Jordan Bowden and a fade away jumper from Schofield gave the Volunteers a 64-61 lead with under 30 second remaining. The rest is history.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” Barnes said. “But we were much tougher in the last seven or eight minutes than we were in Athens.”

Forwards Yante Maten and Rayshaun Hammonds led the Bulldogs with a combined 30 points and 13 rebounds of the night. Jackson Williams II was the only other Georgia player with more than 10 points.

“It means the world man, it’s a blessing,” Williams said about being an SEC Champion. “We have a long way to go. It’s not over yet.”

Tennessee shares the SEC regular season title with Auburn (25-6) who got a win over South Carolina earlier in the day.

Next, Tennessee travels to St. Louis for the SEC Tournament as a No. 2 seed. The Vols earned a double-bye. Tennessee will play the winner of LSU and Mississippi State on Friday.

Edited by Lexie Little

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics 

Vols top Middle Tennessee State 5-3 at home

Tennessee (5-3) squeaked out a 5-4 win over Middle Tennessee State at Lindsey Nelson Stadium on Tuesday night. The Volunteers were led by the sophomore outfield duo of Jay Charleston and Justin Ammons, who had all five of the team’s RBI’s in the victory.

Things weren’t easy for Tennessee pitcher Daniel Vasquez to start the game, as he walked two batters and dealt a wild pitch. Still, MTSU left two men stranded on base despite forcing Vasquez to throw over 20 pitches in the long first inning. The two teams combined to throw over 60 pitches in the first inning, but neither team made a dent on the scoreboard.

It only took two pitches in the second inning for the Blue Raiders to get on the board, as right fielder Blake Benefield hit a deep solo shot to center field to make it 1-0. Vasquez managed to finish out the inning with no further damage allowed.

After walking a batter in the top of the third inning, Vasquez was taken out of the game after being looked at by the trainer. Redshirt junior Richard Jackson took the mound for the Vols, as Vasquez finished with three walks and one earned run through two innings.

“He had been sore earlier in the week, and it’s something that’s tough for us to pinpoint,” said Tennessee head coach Tony Vitello about Vasquez’s injury. “He (the trainer) didn’t have an answer for Daniel earlier in the week, so we put him out there.”

Jackson struck out his first batter but gave up two earned runs in the top of the third inning. Freshman Will Heflin took over for Jackson and finally stopped the bleeding for the Vols in the third inning, but MTSU still took a 3-0 lead. However, Tennessee was unable to answer back, as they left runners stranded in each of its first three innings.

Heflin was tested in the top of the fourth inning, as he walked and hit a batter to load the bases for the Blue Raiders. However, Heflin got out of the pinch with a ground out to second baseman Andre Lipcius.

Tennessee finally awoke out of its slumber in the fourth inning after Charleston hit a two-run double to cut the deficit to 3-2. Charleston’s rip was just the second hit for Tennessee in the game. Before Charleston’s hit, the team was 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

The Volunteers finally hit their stride in the fifth inning after Heflin delivered back-to-back strikeouts to end the top of the fifth inning. Charleston came up clutch for Tennessee once again, as he tied the game at 3-3 in the bottom of the fifth with a one-run single. Ammons finally gave the Vols a 5-3 lead with a two-run triple.

“Our coach always says those are the easy RBI’s, just put the ball in play,” said Charleston. “I think that really changed the momentum of our team, it was a big boost.”

Heflin was inevitably replaced in the top of the seventh inning by Donovan Benoit. He finished with an impressive six strikeouts, two hits and just one walk allowed in four innings. However, on Benoit’s first pitch, Aaron Aucker of the Blue Raiders tallied a one-run single to cut the deficit to 5-4.

Freshman pitcher Chase Wallace replaced Benoit in the eighth inning to finish out the game for Tennessee. Wallace quickly found himself with the bases loaded and no outs for MTSU, but he got out of the jam with a strikeout and a double-play.

Wallace once again dodged a bullet in the bottom of the ninth inning, as the Blue Raiders had a man on third base with one out but failed to tie the game up.

“He’s (Wallace) is in that position because he can do what you saw,” said Vitello. “But he could’ve also made it a lot easier on himself.”

The Volunteers get back in action on Wednesday afternoon against Arkansas Pine-Bluff at 3:30 p.m. ET in Lindsey Nelson Stadium.

Edited by Ben McKee

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

No. 16 Tennessee searches for final road win of the season in Starkville

Mississippi State (21-8, 9-7 SEC) will host No. 19 Tennessee in Starkville on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on the SEC Network. The Volunteers (21-7, 11-5 SEC) are on a two-game winning streak and look to complete the sweep over Mississippi teams in 2018 against the Bulldogs. Meanwhile, Mississippi State is in search of its fourth-straight win as it battles for third place in the SEC standings.

Head coach Ben Howland and the Bulldogs have been on a tear recently, as they have won three straight games for the fourth time this season. The run started with an impressive 17-point win over Ole Miss at home and a 93-81 win over Texas A&M in College Station. In its last game, Mississippi State won its bout with South Carolina at home by a score of 72-68.

“That was a phenomenal, gut-check win for us,” said Howland. “South Carolina is so difficult to play against. It’s hard to simulate that pressure in a couple of days of practice because they deny everything.”

The Bulldogs finished off the Gamecocks in overtime by a four-point margin behind a combined 32 points 11, rebounds and nine assists from the guard duo of Lamar Peters and Quinndary Weatherspoon. Weatherspoon’s clutch pair of free throws with seven seconds remaining iced the game for the Bulldogs. The last time that Mississippi State won 21 games was the 2011 season.

Turnovers were the biggest problem for South Carolina, as Mississippi State forced 21 turnovers, 13 steals and seven blocks. The Bulldogs finished the game with four players in double-digit points, including a 13-point performance from guard Tyson Carter off the bench. Quinndary Weatherspoon and his brother Nick Weatherspoon lead Mississippi State in scoring with a combined 25 points per game.

After dropping an ugly loss to Georgia on the road two games ago, Tennessee bounced back with a win over Florida at home. The Volunteers than took care of Ole Miss in Oxford on Saturday, 73-65. Forward Admiral Schofield and guard Jordan Bowden combined for 40 points and 11 rebounds in the Magnolia State last weekend. The Orange-and-White remain undefeated when Bowden goes for over 15 points this season.

“I was just really aggressive offensively,” Schofield said. “I usually play off of Grant, but he got in foul trouble early. I had to step up.”

Most importantly, the Vols held the Rebels to just four percent shooting from 3-point range, and just 33 percent shooting from the field as a whole. Ole Miss’ 1-of-23 shooting from beyond-the-arc would prove to kill them late in the game, as they were unable to rally back. The Rebels out-scored Tennessee by a seven-point margin in the second half, but couldn’t manage to pull off the upset.

“We had a chance to maybe break it loose earlier, but they stayed after it,” said Barnes. “Then we were able to build the lead back up and get a win. This time of year, a win is a win.”

Dominating the boards is extremely important for the Volunteers, as well as getting consistent shooting from players other than Schofield or Grant Williams. Meanwhile, Ole Miss has to focus on shutting down Tennessee’s paint presence and forcing players other than Williams or Schofield to make plays.

Edited by Ben McKee 

Featured image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics