No. 23 Tennessee went toe to toe with No. 8 Mississippi State during the first quarter of the game, but was unable to keep pace with the Bulldogs and were eventually defeated 72-55, at Thompson-Boling Arena. With the loss, Tennessee drops to 17-6 on the season and 7-3 in the SEC, while Mississippi State climbs to 21-3 overall and 9-1 in conference.
“Obviously, Mississippi State is a really talented basketball team,” said coach Kellie Harper. “We knew we had a big challenge ahead of us. We had a game plan that our players believed in and we were able to execute it for part of the game, really during the first quarter. We just weren’t able to maintain that focus. We had some defensive breakdowns that you can’t have against that team.”
Rae Burrell started in place of Rennia Davis, who is currently battling the flu. In Burrell’s first start of the season, she recorded a double-double and finished with a game-high 20 points on 8-20 shooting, and also grabbed 10 boards. She did turn the ball over six times, but was able to pick the pockets of the Bulldogs on three separate occasions.
Jordan Horston and Jazmine Massengill were the only other Lady Vols to finish in double digit point totals with 12 and 11, respectively.
Mississippi State’s Rickea Jackson, finished with a team-high 14 points on 5-18 shooting, and also recorded nine rebounds. Teammate, Chloe Bibby, was second on the team with 13 points on 50% shooting.
Tennessee opened up the match with a quick score, thanks to a Massengill layup. Shortly after, Horston made one of her two free throws to give the Lady Vols an early 3-0 lead. The Bulldogs responded with a 4-0 run. Burrell took back the lead for Tennessee after converting a three-point play to push the Lady Vols ahead, 8-6. Tennessee’s offense was flowing as they started a 7-0 run to extend their lead at 15-11. To close out the first quarter, after losing the lead, Kasiyahna Kushkituah and Massengill each made baskets to regain the lead for the Lady Vols. Tennessee took a 21-19 advantage into the second quarter.
The Lady Vols offense sputtered during the second quarter, as they only scored nine points during the 10 minutes of play. Kushkituah scored the first basket of the quarter for Tennessee, but Mississippi State responded with a 10-0 run. Horston put an end to the run with a transition layup, and she would go on to score the final three points for the Lady Vols, but they went into half with a 38-30 deficit.
“I feel like we just really didn’t execute in the second quarter,” said Massengill. “We have just been making mental mistakes and have not really been executing our passes very well. We can control our turnovers it just comes down to us”
Starting off the second half, Massengill opened up the scoring for Tennessee to bring the Bulldogs’ lead to six. However, with about five minutes to go, Mississippi State went on an 8-0 run and only allowed the Lady Vols one more basket for the remainder of the quarter. The Bulldogs owned a 56-40 lead going into the final stanza.
Tennessee was able to hang with Mississippi State during the closing frame but it was too little too late. The Lady Vols started hot with Tamari Key scoring a basket under the net, and Massengill unloading a three point shot, cutting the Bulldogs’ lead to just 11. Burrell was able to keep producing by scoring Tennessee’s next seven points, but their defense was unable to stop Mississippi State as they got out-scored 16-15 in the quarter, and ultimately lost 72-55.
“I think this is a really important week for us,” said Lou Brown. “We need to use this week to just tighten up on some things and also to catch up on some rest. During practices, we need to walk in, get focused, and play better. We really need to be mindful of the tiny details because that is what has been hurting us these past couple of games.”
The Lady Vols’ next matchup will be in Baton Rouge, Lousianna against SEC rival LSU at 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday.