The Vols had nearly a week off since winning the regular season SEC co-championship last Saturday against Georgia. And the rust showed when they took on Mississippi State in their first game of the 2018 SEC Tournament.
Tennessee didn’t play well. At all. But they managed to make Mississippi State play poorly as well, and the Vols ended up victorious when it was all said and done.
The Vols advanced to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament with a 62-59 victory over Mississippi State in the quarterfinals. Tennessee led for over 35 minutes of the game, but it was anything from a sure victory from start to finish. The Vols led by as much as nine points at one point in the second half, but the Bulldogs never let it get out of hand.
Here are our three biggest takeaways from Tennessee’s gutsy but ugly win over the Bulldogs.
Sloppy, Bad Offense
Rick Barnes immediately said after the game that Tennessee’s offense wasn’t up to par. And he was right.
Tennessee committed 17 turnovers and only scored 22 second chance points despite bringing down an incredible 22 offensive rebounds. The Vols shot just 33.3 percent from the floor and was uncharacteristically bad from the free throw line too. Tennessee only made 60.7 percent of their free throws in the game.
One plus was Tennessee’s ability to play team offense regardless of how bad it was. The Vols had 11 assists on 20 made buckets compared to just one Bulldog assist.
Grant Williams and Jordan Bowden each had four turnovers, and James Daniel had three. Yet despite all that, Tennessee was able to out-muscle Mississippi State and find a way to win.
Williams finished with a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds despite only making three of his 12 shots. Admiral Schofield added 13 points and eight rebounds, and Lamonte Turner led the team with 15 points and added eight rebounds as well.
But the Defense Carried Them
The offense wasn’t there for the Vols, but luckily for them their defense showed up.
Mississippi State’s defense suffocated the Vols and caused tons of issues inside for Williams, Admiral Schofield, and the rest of Tennessee’s forwards. But Tennessee’s defense also came to play, and they held the Bulldogs to just 35.7 percent shooting overall and just 23.8 percent from three. The Bulldogs made 58.8 percent of their threes against LSU on Thursday.
The Bulldogs missed some wide open shots, including the potential game-winner with just seconds left in the game. But the Vols also missed their fair share of easy buckets.
Tennessee forced 16 Bulldog turnovers, and they dominated the boards, out-rebounding Mississippi State 50 to 33.
It was far from a pretty game, but the gritty defensive effort saved the Vols from what could’ve been an ugly loss.
Survive and Advance Season
When March comes, you take any win you can get. And Rick Barnes and his team may not be happy with how they won on Friday, but they’ll take the victory and prepare for their semifinal game on Saturday.
Once tournament time comes, it doesn’t matter how you win; all that matters is that you find a way to advance. The Vols will have plenty to improve on from this game, and they won’t be able to put forth another performance like this and make it to the finals on Sunday.
But for now, a win is a win. And the Vols were victorious on Friday night.