The state of Mississippi has not been kind to the Tennessee basketball team this season.
The Vols once had a 19-point lead in the first half over Mississippi State. But an abysmal second half saw the Bulldogs eventually erase that deficit, and Mississippi State prevailed 64-59 in Starkville, Mississippi.
This marks the second time this season that Tennessee has had a meltdown in the state of Mississippi. Back on January 17th, the Vols held a 13-point lead in the second half against Ole Miss before dropping that one 80-69 to the Rebels.
Much like that game, the Vols played sloppy, had poor shot selections, and made defensive gaffes against the Bulldogs.
Here are three observations from the Vols’ 64-59 implosion against Mississippi State.
Another Collapse on the Road
The Vols have had three epic collapses on the road this season including this one to Mississippi State. They gave up a 13-point lead to Ole Miss nearly a month ago, and they dropped a 15-point against North Carolina on December 11th, losing 73-71 in that one.
Tennessee hit just 33.3 percent of their field goals in the second half, including just two of their nine three pointers. Mississippi State, meanwhile, rebounded from a dreadful start and made 42.4 percent of their field goals in the second half and were 3-of-7 from three. Tennessee also turned the ball over eight times in the second half.
No matter how you slice it, the Vols collapsed in this one. Mississippi State was beat, and Tennessee let them come back.
Foulfest and No Free Throws in Starkville
There were a combined 48 fouls called in 40 minutes of basketball in Starkville. Both teams had 24 fouls apiece called on them, and both had a player foul out. Tennessee had a whopping 16 fouls called on them in the second half.
But the Vols can’t blame the officiating for their meltdown. Missed free throws in both halves doomed them as well.
Tennessee was a mere 10-of-22 from the free throw line in the game. Mississippi State wasn’t much better, making just 15 of their 31 free throws for the game. The Bulldogs attempted 22 free throws in the second half compared to the Vols’ eight.
Tournament Chances Take Massive Hit
Coming into this game, the Vols’ NCAA Tournament hopes were still alive and well. After the ugly loss, however, Tennessee’s chances of making The Big Dance have taken a huge hit.
The Vols’ RPI stood at 36 coming into the contest at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs had an RPI of 119. This loss marked the first time all season Tennessee lost to a team below the 100 RPI mark. All nine of Tennessee’s previous losses were to teams inside the RPI 100.
Tennessee can still rebound from this game and recover enough to make it to the NCAA Tournament. But now the margin is razor-thin.