3 Observations: Mississippi State 86, Tennessee 73

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    Photo by Caitlyn Jordan/RTI

    Tennessee got off to a good start in Starkville on Saturday afternoon, but things fell apart quickly in the second half.

    The Vols held a six-point lead over Mississippi State at halftime, but the Bulldogs flat out dominated UT in the final 20 minutes, and they went on to win 86-73. Tennessee gave up over half a hundred points in the second half to Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs scored more points against the Vols than any other team this season so far.

    Uros Plavsic earned his first-career start as a Vol because freshman Josiah-Jordan James was held out due to a nagging injury. In his first start, Plavsic was productive, totaling a career-high 16 points and bringing down three rebounds and dishing out two assists. Freshman Santiago Vescovi was also impressive, scoring 16 points on 4-of-9 shooting from three.

    But aside from a few three-pointers from Jalen Johnson and Yves Pons, the rest of Tennessee’s offense was basically non-existent until the game was out of reach.

    Mississippi State had a dynamic trio of scorers. Reggie Perry turned in a double-double and scored 24 points, and DJ Stewart nearly matched Perry with a career-high 20 points himself, hitting four of his five three-pointers. Robert Woodard chipped in 14 points and was 7-of-10 overall.

    Here are our three biggest takeaways from the Vols’ blowout loss on the road against Mississippi State.

    Not Aggressive Enough

    While some of the fouls called on the Vols were questionable for sure, overall Mississippi State just played more aggressively than Tennessee and drove the ball inside more often. The result? A lot of points in the paint, and a lot of drawn contact.

    The Bulldogs scored 32 points in the paint compared to just 20 by UT, and SEC Player of the Year candidate Reggie Perry was a big part of that. He finished the game with 24 points and 12 rebounds, and he made 12 of his 15 free throws. The game marked Perry’s 12th double-double of the season.

    Speaking of free throws, that was a huge deciding factor in Saturday’s game.

    Mississippi State shot 30 free throws on the afternoon. Tennessee, meanwhile, attempted just 13, including just two in the first half of play.

    MSU took advantage of their trips to the charity stripe, sinking 25 of their 30 shots. The Vols finished 9-of-13 from the line.

    Second Half Surge

    Despite Jordan Bowden not scoring a single point and Yves Pons having to sit for an extended period of time due to foul trouble in the first half, the Vols closed the opening half of play strong. UT held a 34-28 lead at halftime, and things were looking good for Tennessee.

    Then the second half happened, and the Vols didn’t have an answer for Mississippi State’s offense.

    The Bulldogs rattled off 58 points in the second half of play, blowing past Tennessee in the process. Mississippi State made a whopping 69.2 percent of their field goals in the second half, including four of their five three-pointers. MSU also dominated the boards, out-rebounding the Vols 23-8 in the second half.

    In the Vols’ last game against Texas A&M, UT was embarrassed on the glass and had fewer total rebounds (21) than the Aggies had offensive boards (23). The Vols were more aggressive on the glass to start Saturday’s game, but it didn’t hold up down the stretch.

    Down in the post, the Vols were absolutely man-handled in the second half. After an even split in points in the paint in the first half, the Bulldogs outscored UT 24-12 down in the paint in the second half.

    Reeling

    For the first time in three years, Tennessee is on a three-game losing streak. And things don’t get much easier moving forward for the Vols.

    UT has lost against Kansas, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State over their last three games. The last time the Vols lost three-straight games was in the 2016-17 season when they fell to Vanderbilt, South Carolina, and LSU from February 22nd through March 1st of 2017.

    The road ahead doesn’t provide the Vols with many opportunities to end this losing skid, either. Up next is a road trip to take on an improved Alabama squad, then UT faces No. 13 Kentucky at home and hosts Arkansas the following game.



    Nathanael Rutherford is the managing editor and social media manager for Rocky Top Insider. Nathanael graduated from the University of Tennessee and cultivated a passion for the Vols while growing up in Knoxville a mere 10 minutes from Neyland Stadium. He's been a part of the RTI team since November of 2015 and has been the editor of RTI since June of 2017. If he's not talking or writing about Tennessee athletics, he's probably talking about Star Wars.