Tennessee might have won Wednesday night's game on April 1, 2008 - no fooling.
That was the day Scotty Hopson announced he would sign with the Vols after originally committing to Mississippi State.
Hopson scored a career-high 21 points and matched his career highs for rebounds (6) and assists (3) in UT's 81-76 win over the Bulldogs before a crowd of 19,137 at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols improved to 17-10, 8-5 in the SEC, keeping their NCAA tournament and SEC Eastern Division title hopes alive with the win over State (17-11, 7-6).
South Carolina sits atop the SEC East with a 9-4 mark after beating Kentucky (8-5) on Wednesday night. Florida, a loser to LSU on Tuesday, also is 8-5.
Hopson said he took a businesslike approach to the game but admitted some pre-game talk got him fired up.
"I know some guys on their team, and there was some talk before the game,'' Hopson said with a smile. "That got me a little amped up.''
Hopson hit 7 of 11 shots, including 3 of 6 beyond the 3-point arc.
"Scotty's mindset is 'we really can't win unless I play like this,' " UT coach Bruce Pearl said. "It was the team's struggles that got Scotty going.''
Hopson scored the Vols' first basket with an explosive dribble-penetration move, and he opened UT's scoring in the second half with a 3-pointer.
But the freshman was hardly a one-man show; Bobby Maze scored 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting, Tyler Smith had 13 points, nine rebounds and four assists, and Wayne Chism had 12 points.
It was the first time since the Vols' win over Georgia four games ago that UT had four players score in double figures.
"That was a good team effort,'' Pearl said. "One of the things I say at times when we're successful is, 'we have too many weapons.'
"That's something I haven't said enough of this year.''
The Bulldogs lead the SEC in 3-pointers made per game (8.5), and though they finished 11-of-30 beyond the arc, many came late as State was 2-of-13 in the first half.
Barry Stewart led the Bulldogs with 20 points, Ravern Johnson had 18 and Dee Bost scored 17 as State made a late run after trailing by as many as 11 in the second half when a Hopson drive to made it 68-57 with 3:40 remaining.
The Bulldogs hit three 3-pointers over the next three minutes, but drew no closer than three points.
A pair of Smith free throws with 28.3 seconds left made it 79-74, and when Johnson missed a 3-pointer and Hopson rebounded, it was all but over.
The Vols led 31-28 at halftime despite being down 25-17 at the 7:11 mark.
Smith sparked a rally that led to UT's halftime edge when he scored his first points in the game on a put-back basket at the 6:40 mark, igniting a 12-1 run.
The Vols return to action at 2 p.m. Sunday at Florida.