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No. 9 seed Mississippi State stuns 5th-ranked Tennessee in SEC quarterfinals 73-56 – Metro US

No. 9 seed Mississippi State stuns 5th-ranked Tennessee in SEC quarterfinals 73-56

SEC Mississippi State Tennessee Basketball
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes huddles his players during a timeout in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Mississippi State at the Southeastern Conference tournament Friday, March 15, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The fifth-ranked Tennessee Volunteers are out of time to fix issues costing them games before the NCAA Tournament.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs likely have played their way into that field with their latest big win.

Cameron Matthews and Josh Hubbard each scored 18 points and the ninth-seeded Bulldogs dominated Tennessee 73-56 Friday in the Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinals.

This victory should push the Bulldogs (21-12) firmly off the bubble with their second win over the SEC’s regular season champions this season. They will play No. 12 Auburn, which beat 15th-ranked South Carolina 86-55, in the semifinals Saturday, their first semifinal since winning this event in 2009.

Mississippi State, which ended the regular season on a four-game skid, never trailed with the Vols managing one tie at 2-2. The Bulldogs held Dalton Knecht, the AP SEC Player of the Year who averaged 25.5 points in league play, to 14 points.

“We just dictated,” Bulldogs forward D.J. Jeffries said.

Mississippi State coach Chris Jans said he knew his team had to be super aggressive.

“Really felt our only chance was to hit them in the mouth,” the second-year coach said. “We had to come out and attack them, just get our toughness in the game and see if we could rattle them a little bit.”

Tennessee (24-8) hurt its hopes for the first No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament in program history with a second straight loss.

“We’re not happy with a lot of things that happened today, things that shouldn’t have happened,” coach Rick Barnes said of his Vols. “There’s nothing that did happen that we can’t fix.”

Tennessee came in looking to add a tournament title to its regular season title for the first time since 1942-43. They leave as losers in the quarterfinals for a second straight year after winning this tournament in 2022.

Zakai Zeigler had a game-high 20 points, and Jahmai Mashack added 10 for Tennessee.

The Volunteers had lots of orange for support with fans desperate to give them energy. Yet they struggled to shoot no matter how open the look at the basket. Mississippi State, which beat LSU in its tournament opener, seemingly couldn’t miss.

“It just felt good silencing all that noise, having our fans root for us,” Matthews said.

The Bulldogs shot 62.5% from the floor and led 38-19 at halftime with Shawn Jones Jr. finishing off the dominating start with a dunk to beat the buzzer after a rare miss by a teammate. They held Tennessee to a season-low for points in the first half, three fewer than the last time these teams met.

Mississippi State led by as much as 23 midway through the second half. When the Vols got within 60-48 with 10 straight points, Jeffries hit a 3 and then a layup to smother Tennessee’s hopes of a comeback.

BIG PICTURE

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs are one of 16 teams with at least two victories over top 10 teams during league play, and this was another one after beating Tennessee in January. They outscored the Vols 42-14 in the paint.

Tennessee: Knecht dug the Vols out of a few poor first-half performances during the regular season with big runs by himself. This time, he was 2 of 9 in the second half. … The Vols are now 10-4 against the Bulldogs with Barnes.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State was swept by South Carolina, including in the regular season finale 93-89 in overtime. The Bulldogs split with Auburn with each team winning on its home floor.


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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball