Tennessee – 70
Mississippi State – 59
STARKVILLE, Miss. – Coming off a big rivalry loss to Kentucky, Tennessee was on the road to take on Mississippi State Tuesday night. The Vols needed a reset and confidence boosting win. They would have the opportunity to get one against a team they beat 87-53 two weeks ago on the day. However, this time they would be without Santiago Vescovi (Shoulder) and Tyreke Key (Illness). This would leave Zakai Zeigler as the lone point guard. Tennessee needed a big night from Zeigler coming off a frustrating game for him against Kentucky.
This game did not start anything like the first matchup. At the 13:00 mark the score was just 9-5 with State in the lead. Tennessee’s offense was clearly struggling without its two starters at the point guard position. After The Vols tenth possession, they had already turned the ball over five times. By the eight-minute mark Zakai Zeigler had five turnovers of his own. Tennessee missed eight straight shots before Josiah-Jordan James cut into The Bulldogs nine-point lead with a three ball that The Vols desperately needed. How much of this struggle was due to coming out slow after a tough loss against Kentucky, and how much of it was missing two integral players in Vescovi and Key? With State leading 21-15 with three minutes to go, Tennessee was going to have to find their footing and quickly. After finding points on two straight possessions, they started to find a rhythm. A net malfunction caused The Mississippi State equipment staff to have to completely reinstall the nylon on one end of the floor. This caused a six-minute delay with a Bulldog six-point lead. Could the extended timeout be the reset Tennessee needed or would State get back to scoring? That question was answered when The Vols were able to tie the game at 23 on a 6-0 run. That would remain the score as the teams went to the locker room for the break.
After a tough shooting half for both teams, both squads started four for five and we were quickly tied at 33. Within the back and forth to 33 was Tennessee’s first lead of the game. Tennessee then scored on 3 straight possessions with two three-pointers from Zeigler who seemed to be finding his stride. After adding a free throw The Vols found themselves leading 42-39. The back and forth continued down the stretch with multiple lead changes. At the eight minute mark, Uros Plavsic rolled his ankle on a Bulldog player’s foot causing him to have to exit the game.
With 6:30 remaining Zakai Zeigler, who had not come out of the game once to that point, scored two straight baskets to make it 55-49 Vols. Zeigler followed that up with a three ball from the logo, but Mississippi State stayed right with them keeping the score within three.
you kidding me Zakai?!? 🔥
— Tennessee Basketball (@Vol_Hoops) January 18, 2023
Then Tennessee’s defense stepped up in a big way and after a three from Nkamhoua, The Vols were 8-9 from three in the second half and leading 64-55 with 2:48 to go. At the 1:24 mark Tennessee was fully in control and up by 12. They had held Mississippi State scoreless for over three minutes before State scored on a couple of free throws. After a clock management foul from State, Tennessee would go on to win 70-59 in comeback fashion.
At the final whistle, Zakai Zeigler played the full 40 minutes without subbing once. After a rough first half, Zeigler completely turned it around in the second and lifted The Vols to a win.
Tennessee’s next game is against LSU in Baton Rouge at 3:00pm on Saturday.