For one last time in the 2018-19 season, the Tennessee Volunteers will play a home game in Thompson-Boling Arena.
The No. 5 Vols (26-3, 14-2 SEC) will host Mississippi State (21-8, 9-7 SEC) for a 9:00 PM Eastern tip-off in Knoxville on Tuesday night, and it will mark the final home game of the regular season for Tennessee. Right now, the Vols are undefeated at home this season and have won 25-straight games in Thompson-Boling Arena. That streak is currently the fifth-longest home winning streak in school history.
Tennessee enters Tuesday’s game having won two-straight contests and are coming off one of their more impressive victories of the season. The Vols dismantled Kentucky on Saturday, beating the Wildcats by a score of 71-52. That win avenged an 86-69 loss to Kentucky in Lexington two weeks prior. Mississippi State comes in to Tuesday night’s match-up having lost to Auburn 80-75 on Saturday, and that loss snapped their five-game winning streak.
Mississippi State has been a ranked team for most of the season. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that they fell out of the top 25 of the AP Poll. But thanks to their hot play before losing to Auburn, they’ve all but secured themselves a spot in the NCAA Tournament and are now battling for better seeding in the SEC Tournament.
The Bulldogs haven’t had a lot of luck against ranked opponents this season. In four previous contests against teams ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll, Mississippi State has won just once, earning a 92-84 victory over then-No. 16 Auburn back on January 26th. Otherwise, the Bulldogs have lost every game they’ve played against ranked teams this season. They’ve lost twice to Kentucky and once in overtime to LSU.
The Vols are 83-43 all-time against Mississippi State, and Tennessee has won four of the last five and eight of the last 10 games they’ve played against the Bulldogs.
Here’s everything you need to know when the Vols host Mississippi State on Tuesday night.
A Dangerous Scorer, but Who Else?
Mississippi State has one of the best scorers in the SEC, and he has some help around him, too.
Senior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon is one of the most dangerous scorers in the SEC this season, averaging 18.8 points per game in his 29 games this year. He actually leads the conference in points per game in SEC play, averaging a robust 19.8 points per contest against SEC foes. Weatherspoon is shooting 51.4 percent from the floor this season and is hitting 41.7 percent of his threes. He’s also knocking down 82.4 percent of his free throws on the year.
But the Bulldogs aren’t just a one-man show.
Junior point guard Lamar Peters is an effective floor general. He averages 11.3 points and 5.3 assists per game and also gets 1.7 steals per contest. Reggie Perry, a 6-foot-10, 245-pound freshman forward, is averaging 9.8 points and 6.9 rebounds a game. In conference play, he’s averaging 11.6 points a contest and 8.1 rebounds.
The Bulldogs also boast another 6-foot-10 forward in Aric Holman who averages 24.4 minutes per game and nearly two blocks per contest, and freshman Robert Woodard has been a solid contributor in SEC play, averaging 6.1 points and 4.3 rebounds in just 18.3 minutes per game in 16 conference games this season.
Mississippi State shoots well as a team (47.4 percent) and averages 77.6 points per game. They’re plenty dangerous beyond just Weatherspoon.
Sophomore guard Nick Weatherspoon has been suspended for the last couple weeks, and he’s expected to still be on the bench and not on the court when the Bulldogs play Tennessee on Tuesday.
No official word has come out as to why Weatherspoon has been benched, but Tyson Carter has stepped up big time in his absence. The junior guard has started the last five games for Mississippi State, and he’s been a real difference-maker for the Bulldogs. In those five games, Carter is averaging 16.2 points and has scored over 20 points in back-to-back games. He’s made an impressive 46.4 percent of his threes over his last three games, including making six of his 14 shots from distance against Auburn on Saturday.
Mississippi State is essentially down to seven players they feel comfortable playing, but Carter has been exceptional in relief of Weatherspoon, and the Bulldogs have actually played better without Weatherspoon in the lineup as of late.
Guarding the Three
After a brutal stretch of giving up a lot of three-pointers, the Vols have done better lately at guarding the perimeter. That will be put to the test on Tuesday night.
As a team, Mississippi State is connecting on 37.4 percent of their three-pointers, and they have the third-best three-point shooting percentage in SEC play, making 36.7 percent of their shots from deep against conference foes. That percentage has taken a jump over the last few games, as the Bulldogs have made 39.2 percent of their threes over their last nine games.
The Vols have done a better job over the last handful of games of defending the three, holding their last four opponents to a combined 32.2 percent shooting from distance. But Tennessee is still allowing teams to make 35.7 percent of their threes in conference play.
Luckily for Tennessee, the Bulldogs aren’t great at guarding three-point shots either.
SEC opponents are making 36.6 percent of their three-pointers against Mississippi State this season. Over their last four games, the Bulldogs’ opponents have made 38 percent of their three-pointers. Auburn connected on 13 of their 30 three-point attempts against Mississippi State on Saturday in an 80-75 victory.
Whoever can guard the perimeter better on Tuesday might be the team that wins the game.
Beware of Blocks
Prepare for a lot of swatted basketballs on Tuesday night.
Mississippi State is one of the most dangerous teams in the country in terms of blocking shots. They rank 12th in the entire country in blocked shots, rejecting 151 attempted baskets this season. Their 85 blocks in SEC play lead the conference, and both Abdul Ado (1.9) and Aric Holman (1.7) are averaging over a block and a half per game.
Tennessee is no slouch when it comes to blocking shots either, though.
The Vols’ 157 blocks this season ranks eighth in Division I basketball, and they’ve totaled 78 blocks in conference play. Kyle Alexander leads the way for Tennessee with 1.8 blocks per game, and Grant Williams has averaged 1.4 blocks a contest.
Tuesday night will mark the last time both Kyle Alexander and Admiral Schofield will play in front of a Thompson-Boling Arena crowd. So expect some emotional moments.
Alexander and Schofield were part of Rick Barnes’ first recruiting class at Tennessee, and they were pivotal in laying the foundation for what has been produced the last two seasons. Tuesday night will be Alexander’s 128th game as a Vol, and it will mark Schofield’s 125th game as a UT player. Both players are enjoying career-highs in a number of categories in their final years as Vols, and it marks the second-straight year for both players that they’re full-time starters for Tennessee.
Two Vol walk-ons, Lucas Campbell and Brad Woodson, will also be playing their final games as Volunteers. Campbell played for Christian Academy of Knoxville in high school while Woodson played for Riverdale over in Murfreesboro.
Assuming both players make an appearance in Tuesday night’s game, it will be the 16th game Campbell has played in for the Vols and the 21st game Woodson has appeared in.