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5 Observations: No. 3 Tennessee 83, No. 6 Mississippi State 76

(Photo via Tennessee Athletics)

Tennessee just played Mississippi State a week and a half ago in the last home game of the 2018-19 season in Thompson-Boling Arena. The Vols won that game, and they repeated the result on Friday night.

No. 3 seed Tennessee (28-4, 15-3 SEC) beat No. 6 seed Mississippi State (23-10, 10-8 SEC) by a score of 83-76 in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament late Friday night. The Bulldogs hung around for a lot of the game, and they kept pace for the first half and the start of the second half.

But the Vols pulled away in the second half and finally kept the Bulldogs at arm’s length.

The two teams exchanged the lead three separate times in the first half, and Tennessee held just a six-point advantage at halftime, 34-28. The Vols scored first in the second half to extend their lead to eight points, but Mississippi State would go on a 7-0 run to pull within one point. Admiral Schofield ended the run and gave the Vols a three-point lead, but a Lamar Peters three moments later tied the game at 38-all with 17:14 left in the game. Kyle Alexander gave UT a 40-38 lead, then Tyson Carter dunked it on the other end to tie the game at 40. Jordan Bone nailed a three, and Quinndary Weatherspoon responded with a layup to make it a one-point game.

That’s when Tennessee separated themselves from the Bulldogs, though.

Tennessee went on a 14-2 run over the next three and a half minutes, and they ended up grabbing a 14-point lead on an Admiral Schofield three with 7:02 left shortly after that initial run. The Bulldogs wouldn’t go away, but the closest they could get the game after that point was a seven-point deficit with 2:20 to go and then again for the final score.

The Vols have now won four-straight games against Mississippi State, and UT has defeated the Bulldogs in 10 of the last 12 meetings between the two schools.

Here are our five biggest observations from the Vols’ quarterfinal victory over Mississippi State.

Have Mercy, Admiral

Admiral Schofield doesn’t mess around when he plays Mississippi State.

The senior forward came into Friday night’s match-up averaging 18.3 points and 6.3 rebounds against the Bulldogs in his last three games against them, and he let Mississippi State have it on Friday as well. Schofield finished the game with a team-high 20 points and brought down nine rebounds as well. He shot 9-of-12 from the floor and made both of the three-pointers he attempted.

Not only that, but The Admiral slammed home potentially the Dunk of the Year in college hoops in the second half.

The Vols got a lot of solid performances on Friday night, but Schofield was one of the more impressive players on the court all game.

Double Point Guards

Tennessee essentially had two point guards on the floor for most of the night on Friday.

Jordan Bone was incredibly efficient at distributing the ball, even if he struggled to score consistently on offense. The junior point guard finished with 14 points on 3-of-8 shooting and got most of his points from the free throw line, connecting on seven of his eight attempts there. But Bone finished the game with nine assists, nearly getting his fourth career “points and assists” double-double. He also pulled down four rebounds and only had one turnover.

For Bone, his nine assists give him 198 assists this season. During the game, he passed Johnny Darden’s total of 192 assists in his 1977-78 campaign for the third-most assists in a single season in school history. Bone needs just 30 more assists this season to pass Rodney Woods’ record of 227 assists for the most assists in a single season in program history.

But Bone wasn’t the only UT guard who dished out tons of assists.

Lamonte Turner finished with just five points on 2-of-7 shooting, but he totaled eight assists on the night. His eight assists were the second-most of his career, trailing only the nine dimes he dished out in the Vols’ win over Wright State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year.

The two guards combined for 17 assists and just four turnovers. As a team, the Vols totaled 21 assists on 34 made baskets.

Alexander Breaks Through 

Kyle Alexander had been playing better over the Vols’ last two games, but he still was struggling to produce at a consistently high level. That changed on Friday.

Alexander finished the Vols’ quarterfinal game vs. Mississippi State with 16 points, nine rebounds, two blocks, and three steals in 28 minutes. The senior was 8-of-11 from the floor and ripped down seven offensive boards.

The 16 points were the most by Alexander in a single game since he totaled 19 against Wake Forest back on December 22nd. Alexander has now totaled at least nine rebounds in three-straight games.

The senior was a big reason the Vols were able to dominate the Bulldogs down low. Tennessee totaled 48 of their 83 points in the paint, and they out-rebounded Mississippi State 40-35 and 16-15 on the offensive glass.

Took a While

Tennessee didn’t shoot a free throw in Friday night’s game until the 10:53 mark in the second half. It took the Vols almost 30 minutes of game time to finally get to the free throw line. It wasn’t because Tennessee was timid and not attacking the rim, though; the Vols just could never draw a foul on a shot and didn’t get the Bulldogs into foul trouble until late in the second half.

Once the Vols did get to the charity stripe, it took them a while to actually make a shot.

Admiral Schofield missed an and-one opportunity on UT’s first free throw attempt of the game, and he would miss another and-one free throw attempt moments later at the 10:04 mark. It wasn’t until Jordan Bowden connected on two free throws with 9:33 left in the game that Tennessee finally recorded their first made free throw of the game.

Despite not attempting a free throw in the first half and taking nearly half an hour of game time to finally get a free throw shot, the Vols ended up out-shooting Mississippi State from the charity stripe in the second half and kept it close for the final stat sheet. The Bulldogs attempted 14 free throws in the second half while UT shot 15 of them. State finished the game with 20 free throw attempts and made only 11 of them. Tennessee connected on 10 of their 15.

Vols-Cats Round Three

With the victory, Tennessee advances to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament. And they’ll be facing their bitter rivals in the match-up.

Kentucky beat Alabama 73-55 in their quarterfinal contest, and now the Vols and Wildcats will face-off for the second-straight year in the SEC Tournament and the third time this season. Tennessee and Kentucky split the regular season series this season, as both teams won blowouts on their home court. Saturday’s game will be the rubber match between the two schools.

Last year, Tennessee swept the regular season series against Kentucky, but the Wildcats got the last laugh. The Wildcats beat the Vols 77-72 in the SEC Tournament Final last year.

The Vols are just 4-12 against Kentucky all-time in the SEC Tournament, and they’ve lost their last four games against the Wildcats in the tournament.

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