Tennessee defeats Mississippi State

Published 10:00 pm Saturday, January 16, 2016

STARKVILLE – Tennessee needed a spark this weekend on the road, having dropped three of its first four SEC games. Even with senior Armani Moore not available, head coach Rick Barnes found his offense elsewhere.

Tennessee’s Kevin Punter and Detrick Mostella combined for 47 points and the Volunteers held off Mississippi State 80-75 on Saturday.

“This was as good of a team win as you could have,” said Barnes. “Everyone in the game contributed in some way. We’ve led every game at halftime in the SEC and I told our guys that Mississippi State would make a push. We had to respond to it and we did.

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“Kevin Punter was terrific and Detrick hit some big shots. It was just a good team win.”

It marked the first road win of the season for the Volunteers (9-8, 2-3 SEC). Mostella had a game-high 24 points while Punter had 23 points and five assists.

Mississippi State (7-9, 0-4) is off to a 0-4 start in SEC play for the first time since 1992-93.

Mississippi State was led by freshman Quinndary Weatherspoon, who made his first career start in the SEC. Weatherspoon had a career-best 23 points while Gavin Ware had 21 points and 10 rebounds for the Bulldogs.

It was Ware’s fifth double-double of the season and the 17th double-double of his career. Ware has now scored in double digits in 16 straight games to open the season.

Tennessee shot 47 percent for the game and made 10 of 23 three-pointers and had just eight turnovers. Mississippi State shot just 42.4 percent from the floor and 5 of 19 beyond the arc.

“Obviously, it was a disappointing loss,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. “We got down by double digits again and fought back. But I take full responsibility. I thought our zone would help us win some games but it hasn’t worked out that way.

“Our guys wanted to play man (in the second half) and that is what I believe in. We got away (from the zone) and we are going to live and die with our man defense. Our kids prefer that but we got to play aggressively without fouling.”

The Bulldogs held a 40-31 rebounding advantage, including a 17-8 advantage on the offensive boards.

Tennessee held the second-half lead for the duration and led by as many as 11 in the second half. A layup by Weatherspoon cut the Tennessee lead to 60-59 with 5:15 left but the Bulldogs would get no closer.

Tennessee used its perimeter shooting to take control in the first half. The Volunteers trailed 9-8 in the opening minutes but reeled off 13 unanswered points, including a trio of 3-pointers, to grab a 21-9 lead with 13:23 left in the first half.

Mississippi State managed to cut the deficit to 29-24 following a 3-pointer from I.J. Ready. But the Volunteers finished off the half with their sixth 3-pointer and held a 38-27 lead at halftime.

Weatherspoon was 8 of 15 from the floor and 3 of 5 on 3-pointers. Malik Newman and Ready each had six assists for Mississippi State.

“Q (Weatherspoon) is one of our five best players,” said Howland. “So starting him tonight, this was the right team to do it against because Tennessee was playing small. I am not sure if he can do it every night but regardless, he is going to play major minutes.”

Tennessee shot 50 percent in the first half, including 6 of 14 beyond the arc. The Bulldogs managed just 35.7 shooting in the first half and were just 2 of 9 on 3-pointers.

By Paul Jones, Associated Press