3 Observations: No. 16 Vols 76, Mississippi State 54

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    The Vols needed to win on Tuesday night in order to keep their hopes alive of getting at least a share of the SEC regular season title. And they were able to do just that, and they did so in dominating fashion.

    Tennessee (22-7, 12-5) didn’t start out particularly strong, but they recovered and ended up manhandling Mississippi State (20-9, 9-8) en route to a 76-54 victory. The Vols were down 20-13 with over eight minutes gone in the first half, and the crowd was rocking in Humphrey Coliseum.

    But from that point on, it was all Tennessee.

    The Vols outscored Mississippi State 63-34 over the final 31 and a half minutes, and Tennessee became only the second team all season to defeat the Bulldogs at home. The only other team to defeat Mississippi State at home this year was Auburn.

    Here are our three biggest takeaways from the Vols’ impressive win over Mississippi State.

    Dominated Inside

    Mississippi State doesn’t have much of an inside presence. And that was more than evident on Tuesday night.

    The Vols had their way with the Bulldogs in the paint in this game. Tennessee held a 36-22 edge in points in the paint, and they out-rebounded Mississippi State 34 to 24. Admiral Schofield did a large majority of that damage, as he totaled 24 points and seven rebounds. He finished a point shy of tying his career-high that he set just this past weekend during Tennessee’s 73-65 victory over Ole Miss.

    Tennessee only attempted 11 three-pointers in the game (they made four). They didn’t need to take many perimeter shots because they were cooking down low. And they used that edge to dominate Mississippi State.

    Tenacity, Physicality, and Depth

    When the Vols struggled for a stretch earlier this month, it was because they got away from the physicality and interior game that brought them so much success earlier in the season. But they got back to that style of play tonight.

    Tennessee was efficient down low and attempted higher percentage shots than they were earlier this month. The Vols shot 68.2 percent in the second half and 56.3 percent overall in the game, and they attempted 23 free throws compared to just 16 by Mississippi State. The Vols made 78.3 percent of their free throw attempts compared to just 62.5 percent for the Bulldogs.

    The Vols’ bench came in handy too. Schofield was by far the most productive player for Tennessee, but he had plenty of help too. Tennessee’s bench players had 25 points while Mississippi State’s bench totaled just six points. Lamonte Turner had 12 points and four assists, Derrick Walker had seven points and two rebounds, and Yves Pons put in some productive minutes with three points and three rebounds in 11 minutes.

    The Vols muscled inside, drew fouls, and were consistently the more aggressive team on Tuesday night.

    The Clincher 

    With the win, the Vols clinched a double-bye in the SEC Tournament and ensured that they would be no worse than the No. 2 seed in the tournament as well.

    Tennessee could’ve fallen all the way to the No. 5 seed had they lost this game and the season finale against Georgia, but now they don’t have to worry about that happening. For the first time since the 2013-14 season, the Vols will be guaranteed a top-4 finish in the SEC.