Bulldogs down No. 5 Volunteers, advance to SEC semifinals

Published 3:34 pm Friday, March 15, 2024

By Joel T. Coleman

Hail State Athletics

NASHVILLE — Mississippi State rode a completely dominant first half to a 73-56 victory over No. 5 Tennessee on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament at Bridgestone Arena. The Bulldogs never trailed in the game as they eliminated the top-seeded Volunteers and moved on to Saturday’s semifinal round.

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MSU built itself a 38-19 lead by halftime behind a tremendous showing on both ends of the floor. The Dawgs shot 61.5 percent as a group and limited the Volunteers to just 20.6 percent shooting over the course of the first 20 minutes of action.

Tennessee rallied with a 9-2 run over the first few minutes of the second half to shrink State’s lead to 12. However, MSU’s Josh Hubbard drilled a 3-pointer to short-circuit the Volunteer charge and MSU’s advantage was never again seriously threatened from there.

Cameron Matthews did a little bit of everything for State. The senior forward went a perfect 7-for-7 from the field as he tied his season-high with 18 points. He also collected eight rebounds, contributed three assists and captured two steals.

Hubbard also totaled 18 points for the Dawgs. The freshman guard did much of his damage from long range, sinking a trio of 3-pointers.

Tennessee was led in scoring by Zakai Zeigler’s 20 points.

SEC Player of the Year Dalton Knecht posted 14 points for the Vols but was disrupted frequently by the State defense that held him to 4-of-17 shooting from the floor.

After taking down the Vols, the Bulldogs now stand just a win away from the SEC Tournament championship game. State will look to capture that win on Saturday at noon CT against the winner of Friday afternoon’s tilt between Auburn and South Carolina. Saturday’s contest will be televised by ESPN.