Top-Seeded Vols Fall to Mississippi State in SEC Tournament Opener

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Vols Fall to Mississippi State
Photo by UT Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – March 15, 2024 – The top-seeded University of Tennessee men’s basketball team dropped a 73-56 decision to ninth-seeded Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals Friday afternoon at Bridgestone Arena.

Fifth-ranked Tennessee (24-8, 14-4 SEC) fell behind early by double digits and could not claw back. Junior guard Zakai Zeigler, who surpassed 1,000 career points in the setback, paced the SEC regular season champions with a game-best 20 points.

The Volunteers shot 2-of-13 and committed five turnovers in the opening eight minutes, as Mississippi State (21-12, 8-10 SEC) raced out to a 15-4 advantage, buoyed by an 8-0 surge in 2:38.

Tennessee cut the deficit down to six, but the Bulldogs continued their strong on both ends and eventually closed the half on a 12-1 run in the final 4:28 to turn an eight-point edge into a 19-point mark, 38-19, at the intermission.

Mississippi State shot 61.5 percent (16-of-26) in the first half, while Tennessee posted a 20.6 percent (7-of-34) mark, including an 11.1 percent (2-of-18) ledger from 3-point range. The Volunteers did not make a field goal in the final 5:43 of the frame.

Tennessee scored nine of the first 11 points coming out of the break, quickly trimming the margin down to 12, 40-28, with 15:38 remaining. The Bulldogs, however, responded with nine consecutive points in 2:12 to take a 21-point edge, 49-28, with 13:07 to go.

Mississippi State upped the advantage to 23 and it sat at 22 with under eight minutes left, but Tennessee went on a 10-0 run in 2:34—capped by back-to-back 3-pointers by Zeigler, the first of which put him into triple digits as a collegian—to get within 12, 60-48, with 5:03 left.

The Volunteers, though, got no closer the rest of the way and Mississippi State earned the decision to advance to the semifinals.

Along with Zeigler leading all scorers, both fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht and junior guard Jahmai Mashack finished in double figures. Knecht scored 14 points, while Mashack recorded 10 on 4-of-6 shooting. Junior forward Jonas Aidoo led all players with 10 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end, in the defeat.

Senior forward Cameron Matthews co-led the Bulldogs with 18 points and paced the team with eight rebounds. He made all seven of his field-goal attempts and shot 4-of-5 at the line, adding a co-team-high three assists and two steals.

Freshman guard Josh Hubbard also scored 18 points for Mississippi State and was its lone other double-figure scorer. Three additional Bulldogs amassed eight points.

Tennessee shot 42.9 percent (12-of-28) in the second half, but still finished the day with a 30.6 percent (19-of-62) clip overall. At the other end, Mississippi State, which had a 42-14 edge in paint points, shot 55.3 percent (26-of-47) in the win.

The Volunteers will now return home to Knoxville, Tenn., where they will await their matchup, seed and destination for the 2024 NCAA Tournament, as the program is expected to reach the field for the sixth consecutive time.

To keep up with the University of Tennessee men’s basketball team on social media, follow @Vol_Hoops on Instagram and X/Twitter, as well as /tennesseebasketball on Facebook.

TENNESSEE VOLUNTEERS POSTGAME NOTES
• Tennessee is now 74-58 (.561) all-time in the SEC Tournament, including 45-18 (.714) in opening games, 15-13 (.536) in Nashville and 10-4 (.714) versus Mississippi State.
• Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes fell to 11-7 (.611) in the SEC Tournament with the Volunteers, including 6-2 (.750) in opening contests, 6-6 (.500) in Nashville and 3-1 (.750) against Mississippi State.
• Tennessee’s setback Friday snapped a six-year streak—does not count 2020, when the tournament was canceled due to COVID-19—of the team winning its SEC Tournament opener.
• The Volunteers are now 76-24 (.760) in 100 games as an AP top-10 team under Barnes’ direction, including 35-11 (.761) in 46 games while in the top five.
• The last time Tennessee dropped back-to-back games against SEC foes was in Feb. 18 and 21, 2023, when it fell at Kentucky (66-54) and at Texas A&M (68-63), respectively.
• Tennessee’s two lowest-scoring first halves of the season are both against Mississippi State, as it had 22 in Starkville, Miss., on Jan. 10 before notching 19 in Friday’s quarterfinal affair.
• The Volunteers’ 56 points marked their lowest output of the season, as they finished three below the 59 they totaled on Jan. 30 against South Carolina.
• Matthews became the first player to make seven-plus shots without a miss versus Tennessee since Oregon State’s Roman Silva went 8-of-8 on March 19, 2021, in Indianapolis in the NCAA Tournament Round of 64.
• Auburn’s Korvotney Barber was the last SEC player to go at least 7-of-7 from the floor against Tennessee, tallying an 8-of-8 clip on Feb. 7, 2009.
• On a 3-pointer with 6:06 remaining, Zeigler, in his 97th outing as a Volunteer, became the 56th player in program history to reach 1,000 points.
• Zeigler now owns seven 20-point performances as a Volunteer, including four this season and three versus Mississippi State.
• The Volunteers now have five 1,000-point scorers on its roster, three of whom have hit that number while at Tennessee.
• Aidoo jumped five players to move from No. 11 all the way to sixth on Tennessee’s single-season offensive rebounding list, now possessing 97 such boards on the year.
• Friday marked the second time this season Aidoo grabbed seven offensive boards in a game—he also did so Jan. 13 at Georgia—after no Volunteer achieved that feat even once in the prior three seasons.
• The last Tennessee player with seven offensive rebounds in an SEC Tournament game was Kyle Alexander, who hit that mark against the same foe (Mississippi State), on the same date (March 15) and in the same round (quarterfinals), exactly five years ago
• Aidoo, who pulled down nine rebounds in the first half alone, compiled the 13th double-digit rebounding total of his career, including his 11th in 2023-24.
• With 676 points in 2023-24, Knecht passed Allan Houston (1992-93) and Bernard King (1976-77) to move from No. 11 up to ninth on the program’s single-season leaderboard, including third in the past 30 years (1994-2024).
• In his 19 outings against SEC foes during his lone season at Tennessee, Knecht scored 13-plus points in 18 of them, all but the first when he tallied eight in the conference opener.

Source: UT Sports
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