A second-half run fell short and the Vols wasted a 30-point night from Josh Richardson on Tuesday night and fell to the visiting Mississippi State Bulldogs by the final score of 71-66. Rick Ray’s squad didn’t get up a bunch of shots, but they made the most of them and took advantage of numerous trips to the free throw line to escape Knoxville with a five-point win and split the season series between the two schools at one game apiece.
Here are five observations from tonight’s game:
State on fire: Sometimes your opponent comes out hot and stays that way for 40 minutes. That’s exactly what happened to Tennessee tonight. Anytime the Vols would get within striking distance, the Bulldogs would counter with big shots of their own to control the game and quiet the crowd. State would finish the night 19-of-34 from the field (55.9%) and a blistering 8-of-11 (72.7%) from beyond the three-point line. Tennessee finished 25-of-60 (41.7%) from the field and an abysmal 5-of-20 (25%) from three.
“A third of our shots were from behind the arc,” Tennessee head coach Donnie Tyndall said after the game. “They played probably a third of the game zone, it is kind of a common theme when you look at about half of our losses, we shoot 25 percent or less form the three. You go back to Alabama, Texas A&M, Marquette and now tonight, so when you have a perimeter oriented team like we do and you don’t shoot is well from behind the arc obviously that hurts your team.”
Missed dunk: Every basketball game has a moment that typically swings the game in favor of one team or the other, and tonight’s contest was no different. With roughly a minute remaining in the game and Tennessee trailing by two, Vol junior forward Derek Reese went up for a game-tying dunk as the seas parted to give him a clear lane to the basket. Reese’s dunk attempt would carom high off of the back iron leading to a fast-break and-one basket for MSU. The Vols – who were inches away from tying the game – now trailed by five with under a minute to play and the game was all but over.
“I thought he attacked the rim,” Tyndall said when asked about the play. “I will live with that. He is trying to dunk a ball off a dribble penetration and we will take that every time. If it goes down it is a tie game with a minute or so to go and you have a chance to win. Again that is an example of a chip right around the goal that we didn’t convert.”
J-Rich: Tennessee’s unquestioned leader was the only reason that the Vols were still in the game when Reese’s dunk attempt failed. The senior was again sensational on both ends of the floor and nearly did enough on his own to will his team to a victory. Richardson finished the night with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting and a perfect 6-of-6 night at the free throw line. Richardson would also add five assists to his tally before exiting the game with five fouls with less than 30 seconds to play.
After the game, Tyndall wasn’t as impressed with Richardson’s night as some may have expected. The head coach said that while the points were nice, it was the other numbers on the stat sheet that concerned him.
“I always talk about field goals made and attempted field goals,” Tyndall said when asked about Richardson’s night. “I hope what Josh is looking at is that he only had one rebound and one steal in 39 minutes and turned it over seven times. It doesn’t mean that he didn’t play hard. It doesn’t mean he didn’t play well. We don’t get hung up on field goal made and field goal attempted. It is those other numbers.”
Free Throws: In a game that was questionably officiated, at best, Tennessee received the short end of the stick when it came to trips to the free throw line. On a night that saw the visiting team shoot 35 free throws, the Vols would attempt only 17 – a disparity that caught Donnie Tyndall’s attention when he looked at the final stats from tonight’s game.
“I don’t know if I have ever lost a game like that with those type of discrepancies in those two areas but you look back and 35 free throws and we have 17, that is the difference in the game…But we just fouled them too much and put them on the line and that is a credit to them. They didn’t settle for jump shots, they drove the ball. A couple times we didn’t get the post fronted, about four or five times, we don’t get overtop of a ball screen and they turn the corner and draw a foul. They shoot 35 free throws and then the threes they took, they only took 11 of them but they were good looks and they stuck them in the goal.”
Sword fight: Josh Richardson may have been the star tonight, but Mississippi State’s Craig Sword deserves a lot of credit for keeping pace. Sword would pour in 26 points of his own on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor, 4-of-5 shooting from beyond the arc and an 8-of-10 finish from the free throw line. Anytime the Bulldogs needed a big shot they turned to Sword, who was more than happy to deliver on multiple occasions.
“Craig (Sword) has always been a good player,” Josh Richardson said when asked about the game Sword had. “I think he had something done on his back in the offseason. So he’s fully heathy and he’s been playing really well lately.”
Final stats: pic.twitter.com/EDfrJraDyy
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) February 4, 2015