Vols win easily over Mississippi State

Published 3:39 pm Wednesday, January 4, 2023

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A stellar offensive performance complemented by stifling defense vaulted No. 8 Tennessee to a dominant rout of Mississippi State, 87-53, in the Vols’ SEC home-opener Tuesday night in Thompson-Boling Arena.

Tennessee (12-2, 2-0 SEC) recorded the fourth-highest field-goal percentage in program history Tuesday, shooting 69.2 percent in the 34-point triumph—the largest margin of victory in the history of the 133-game series. The Vols connected on 76 percent of their field-goal attempts in the second half.

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Mississippi State (11-3, 0-2 SEC) entered Tuesday’s contest ranking seventh in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.366) and fourth in scoring defense (54.5 ppg).

SEC Sixth Man of the Year candidate Zakai Zeigler’s first career double-double also featured a career-best single-game assist total, as the sophomore registered 11 points and 10 rebounds on the night. Santiago Vescovi sparked Tennessee’s offense early, logging 14 first-half points after burying four 3-pointers in the opening stanza. Vescovi has scored at least 14 points in each of UT’s past three games, shooting .600 (12-20) from beyond the arc in that span.

True freshman Julian Phillips was efficient, tallying 11 points of 5-of-6 shooting to go along with seven rebounds. Fellow frosh Tobe Awaka continued his impressive rebounding trend, bringing down six boards while adding nine points on a 4-of-5 shooting effort.

Senior big men Uros Plavsic and Olivier Nkamhoua mirrored shooting performances, each going 5-of-5 from the field. Josiah-Jordan James recorded an eight-point night with four assists in his return to action following an extended absence due to knee soreness.

Mississippi State was led by Tyler Stevenson’s 15-point effort. Collectively, the Bulldogs were limited to a .396 clip from the field, making just over 22 percent of their 3-point attempts. Five Vols reached double-figure scoring in the win, with Tennessee turning defense to offense by accumulating 20 points off 12 Mississippi State turnovers.

With the victory, Tennessee extended its home win streak to 24 games. Eleven of those wins have come against SEC opponents. The Vols have won eight of the last nine meetings overall against the Bulldogs, including four straight at home.