Despite the largely orange-laden crowd at Bridgestone Arena on Friday night, it felt like a neutral site game between Tennessee and Mississippi State.
Then came the halfway point in the second half.
The Vols went on a 16-5 run and the Tennessee fan base made its presence felt, helping to propel Tennessee to an 83-76 victory over the Bulldogs in the SEC Tournament quarterfinals.
“No doubt we knew it was going to be a really hard-fought game, which it was,” head coach Rick Barnes said. “I thought from a team, we really did a lot of great things out there.”
Included in the run were numerous hustle plays, none of which matched the energy felt in the arena that senior guard Admiral Schofield’s poster dunk provided. The slam gave Tennessee a 57-46 lead with 10:05 to play.
Schofield finished with a team-high 20 points on 9 of 12 shooting. He was 2 of 2 from 3-point land and grabbed seven rebounds.
“From here on out, I gotta be that guy,” Schofield said. “I gotta be that guy all the way around. I’m a winner and I do whatever it takes.”
Senior forward Kyle Alexander scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds, returning to his non-conference play self.
Alexander was 8 of 11 from the floor, and seven of his nine rebounds came on the offensive end.
“My teammates were putting me in the right positions and God was helping me make the baskets,” Alexander said. “All glory to Him and I just appreciate that I was able to do the job today. We all gotta re-coup and do it again tomorrow.”
Mississippi State trailed 34-28 at halftime, despite shooting 12 of 29 from the field and 2 of 11 from deep.
The Bulldogs rallied to tie the game, 40-40, at the under 16:00 media timeout in the second half. After several minutes of back-and-forth scoring, Tennessee turned its intensity up a notch.
The furious rally of plays—capped by the Schofield dunk—turned Bridgestone Arena into a not-so-neutral site.
“I’m athletic, and I just took a chance,” Schofield said. “It’s March.”
Grant Williams scored 16 points on 8 of 17 shooting before fouling out late in the game. Jordan Bone added 14 points and nine assists.
Junior guard Jordan Bowden netted 10 points and five rebounds, while Lamonte Turner scored five points and dished out eight dimes.
“Tonight I just wanted to come out and focus on the defensive end of the floor,” Turner said. “Just run the team, try to get to my spots, try to get everybody involved and take my shots when they came to me.”
Tennessee faces Kentucky on Saturday at approximately 3:30 p.m. ET. The Vols and Wildcats have already played twice this season, splitting the pair.
“We are all about our business,” Bowden said. “We just gotta get focused on our next game and get prepared for it.”