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