A night that started with tears for Admiral Schofield ended with an infectious smile.
As No. 5 Tennessee’s senior guard walked off the court on senior day at Thompson-Boling Arena for the last time, he took with him a 71-54 win over Mississippi State—one that places the Vols in the crosshairs of another SEC Regular Season Championship.
Scoring the first bucket of the game and adding a consistent dose throughout the evening, Schofield led Tennessee with 18 points on a night that capped a perfect 18-0 home record on the season for the Vols.
“I thought Admiral and Kyle were really locked in,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “Sometimes you expect it to be the other way where seniors are a little too emotional, but those guys I thought were terrific.”
For Schofield, most of the emotions came when he woke up on Tuesday morning and realized it would be his final home game.
“I got most of them (emotions) out this morning,” Schofield said. “I was just more thankful for the amount of support I got when my name was called. It was very touching to see how many people support me.”
Senior Kyle Alexander added six points and 10 rebounds.
He is now tied with Allan Houston, Armani Moore and Chris Lofton for sixth on the career games played list at Tennessee.
“Coach (Rick) Barnes always talks about how my freshman year I was a baby giraffe,” Alexander said. “For the fans to stick with me to this day, that’s the best fan base in the country, because I was a struggle my freshman year.”
Mississippi State, who is 16thnationally in offensive efficiency, was within six at halftime, trailing 31-25.
In the second half, however, it was no match for the Vols’ defense. The Bulldogs shot just 9 of 28 from the floor following the intermission, including a 1 of 8 mark from the 3-point line.
“I think in Lexington (Kentucky), it really humbled us,” Schofield said. “I think that was the start of us really locking in and understanding what we needed to do defensively and hold teams under a certain amount of points defensively.”
Tennessee shot 26 of 61 from the field in the game, hitting at a 43 percent rate. The Vols were 6 of 23 from beyond the arc.
Junior forward Grant Williams scored 14 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for the double-double. Jordan Bowden added 12 points on 4 of 12 shooting.
With 4:11 left in the game, Schofield hit his final shot, a ringing 3-pointer from the left wing. The crowd was loud, but it saved its final thunderous roar of the night for a few moments later.
As the clock wound down to 2:23 remaining in the game, Schofield and Alexander exited the game to a standing ovation. Senior walk-ons Lucas Campbell and Brad Woodson entered for the waning minutes.
Woodson’s presence was felt, as he drilled a 3-pointer—the final bucket of the game—with 21 seconds to play. The basket brought his career point total to 19.
“Grant (Williams) handed it off and set a good screen for me,” Woodson said. “As soon as it left my fingers, I knew it was money.”
Tennessee closes out the regular season on Saturday against Auburn at Auburn Arena. Tipoff is set for noon ET and the game will be broadcasted on ESPN.
LSU will look to keep pace with the Vols by beating Florida (Wednesday) and Vanderbilt (Saturday) to close the season. Tennessee and LSU both have two losses and would share the SEC Regular Season Title by winning out.
“Honestly, I haven’t really watched any other SEC games all season,” Schofield said. “I don’t plan on changing that.”