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Tennessee ended its two-game losing skid Thursday night as the Lady Vols used a massive third quarter to knock off Mississippi State, 86-64.
“Really proud of our team,” Tennessee head coach Kellie Harper said postgame. “I thought we made a lot of really good plays. I thought our defense was pretty consistent for the majority of the game. I thought we were tough. I thought we shared the ball extremely well. I thought we were patiently aggressive offensively and our team played with a lot of confidence.”
The Lady Vols built a strong first quarter lead based on defense. The Bulldogs made just three-of-19 first quarter shot attempts including an abysmal one-of-nine shooting from three-point range.
Tennessee’s defense completely swallowed Mississippi State as the Lady Vols’ built an eight point advantage at the end of the opening quarter.
Mississippi State clawed back in the game in the second quarter as its three-point shooting progressed to the mean and Tennessee shot itself in the foot with turnovers.
The Bulldogs made four-of-10 attempts from deep and the Lady Vols turned it over seven times in the second quarter. The fourth and final Mississippi State triple of the quarter cut Tennessee’s lead to 30-27 with just 10 seconds left in the half.
Losers of four of its last six games entering Thursday, Tennessee came out with a sense of urgency in the second half and created an insurmountable lead in the third quarter.
Tennessee opened the second half on a 9-2 run in the first three minutes and it turned into an extended 21-4 run in over seven minutes that extend its lead to 20 points and effectively put the Bulldogs away.
Mississippi State’s offense awoke in the final minutes of the quarter, but it was too little, too late. The Bulldogs would never trail by less than 15 points again as the Lady Vols coasted to the win in the second half.
Tennessee’s 30 third quarter points equaled its first half offensive output.
“I feel like we come out of the locker room pretty aggressive offensively,” Harper said of her team’s continued third quarter success. “We feel good about what we’re doing. I wish I could say it was something magic that I was telling them at halftime, but I think it’s just their mindset when they come out for the second half. They have an aggressive attitude and outlook and I think it’s helped us.”
The undermanned Lady Vols were led by the three-headed monster of Jordan Walker, Tamari Key and Alexus Dye.
Transitioning into the point guard role due to Jordan Horston’s injury, Walker shined scoring nine points while grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out seven assists.
Tennessee’s front court dominated Mississippi State’s as Tamari Key and Alexus Dye had massive games. Key flirted with her second triple-double of the season, scoring 23 points on 11-of-14 shooting while recording 15 rebounds and six blocks.
Dye’s offense sparked the Lady Vols during a handful of dry spells. The Troy transfer eclipsed 1,000 career points in 13 point, eight rebound performance.
“Snoop (Dye) has been really active recently,” Harper said. “I think she’s kind of settled in to where she needs to be right now. … I’m just really glad she’s here and really proud we could be part of that 1,000.”
Sharpshooter Tess Darby had a career game as well, totaling 17 points on six-of-seven shooting from the field and five-of-six shooting from three-point range.
“Having the confidence that my teammates have in me, it’s rubbing off on me,” Darby said. “I know they want me to shoot the ball, I just have to do that when they give me the ball to open up for others.”
The Lady Vols conclude their regular season Sunday afternoon against No. 8 LSU. Tip-off at Thompson-Boling Arena is at 2 p.m. ET. ESPN2 will broadcast the top 20 showdown.