Tennessee (9-8, 2-3 SEC) got its first win away from home on Saturday in Starkville, knocking off Mississippi State (7-9, 0-4 SEC) 80-75 in a much-needed victory for a UT team that had dropped two straight tough SEC games.
Here are five quick observations from the win:
1. A road win is a road win: It wasn’t pretty the whole way and the Vols almost blew an early lead in this one. But for a program that was winless in its last seven tries away from Thompson-Boling Arena, it’s tough to complain much about Tennessee finding a way to win. The Bulldogs certainly aren’t a top-tier SEC teams, but they had only lost two games at home so far on the season. This game also marked the first SEC road win for UT since March of 2015.
2. Just in time: The timing of this victory is important too. With a talented, albeit underachieving, Vanderbilt team coming to Knoxville next Wednesday followed by SEC games against South Carolina, Alabama and Kentucky (with a non-conference game at TCU squeezed in between those), the Vols could’ve dug themselves into a huge hole in the league standings. It’s still an uphill battle, but Saturday’s win has to be a huge relief from that standpoint.
3. Mostella’s emergence: Kevin Punter’s 23 points were no surprise, but it was sophomore Detrick Mostella who edged Punter out for the title of leading scorer, dropping an efficient 24 points on a 5-of-11 performance from 3-point range. Perhaps it’s not that much of a surprise if you’ve been paying attention to Mostella’s production of late. He’s scored in double digits in seven of UT’s last eight games, and has been especially hot from 3-point territory recently, hitting 12 out of his last 23 over a stretch of three games – an impressive 52.1% from beyond the arc in that time. The Vols have been looking for more consistency from him for two years now, and they just might be getting it.
4. Moore held out, Vols not held down: Armani Moore twisted his ankle at the end of the Georgia game this week and couldn’t give it a go on Saturday in what was a game-time decision. The Vols might’ve missed him a bit on the boards, where MSU held a 40-31 edge, but Tennessee still had a 6-4 edge in blocked shots – an area Moore excels in. Tennessee also got creative to extend the bench, giving walk-on guard Brad Woodson and rarely-used forward Ray Kasongo some run as well with Moore not available.
5. Lead slips again: For the fifth time in five SEC games, the Vols got outscored in the second half after going to the break with a lead. This time, the Vols were able to withstand it thanks to some good shooting late and solid free-throw shooting. With just over 10 minutes remaining, the Vols were up by 10, but that lead was cut to two at the 4:27 mark, and got it back down to three with under a minute late after the Vols recovered a bit. This has been a troubling trend in SEC play so far, but Tennessee can live with it when it gets the win.
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) January 16, 2016