First half was enough cushion for Vols against Mississippi State, 69-53

Up next: Alabama with NCAA implications

Tennessee reacts after guard Jordan McRae (52) slammed a 360-degree dunk in the second half against Mississippi State during the second round of the 2013 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Thursday, March 14, 2013. Tennessee won 69-53 over Mississippi State. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

Photo by Adam Brimer

Tennessee reacts after guard Jordan McRae (52) slammed a 360-degree dunk in the second half against Mississippi State during the second round of the 2013 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Thursday, March 14, 2013. Tennessee won 69-53 over Mississippi State. (ADAM BRIMER/NEWS SENTINEL)

NASHVILLE - Hoisting up out of their Bridgestone Arena seats, the men in crimson slipped out before the final horn.

They’d seen enough of the sneak preview.

In a rarely pretty, but hardly in doubt SEC second-round meeting, Tennessee pushed past Mississippi State 69-53 on Thursday afternoon. Point guard Trae Golden summed up a flat day saying, “A win is a win and we’ll take it.”

And that makes 20 of them. The victory boosted the Vols’ record to 20-11 and bolstered an NCAA tournament resume in need of a few more accolades.

Now those fellas in crimson await. Today’s quarterfinal between fifth-seeded Tennessee and fourth-seeded Alabama (TV: ESPNU, 3:30 p.m. Eastern), might as well be played inside the NCAA tournament bubble.

The Vols set the date behind four double-digit scoring performances against 13th-seeded Mississippi State (10-22). Tackling the task at hand early, UT built a 35-19 halftime lead the Bulldogs could never overcome.

The first half presented a Tennessee team stomping an undermanned underdog. The second half showed a team ready to run to the next day.

“We won the game,” UT coach Cuonzo Martin said. “In this arena, in this setting, you win ballgames and move on.”

Junior guard Jordan McRae led the Vols with 17 points, including an eye-popping 360 dunk in the game’s closing moments. He was joined in double digits by Golden’s 15 points and 10 apiece from Jarnell Stokes and Quinton Chievous.

The Vols mounted a 14-2 run during a 5-minute, 35-second stretch late in the first half to build a 35-16 lead and sat on the cushion throughout the second half. They made 15 of 31 shots in the first half and led by as many as 19.

That was enough.

But there was still another half to play.

UT committed 10 turnovers leading to 12 Mississippi State points after halftime. The Vols shot 56.0 percent (14-for-25) in the second half, but let the Bulldogs stick around.

“Yeah we were (sloppy), especially me, trying to force too many passes,” McRae said. “I know we had a three-on-one (break) and I threw it at Jarnell’s legs. I’ve got to make sure I convert that.”

The Bulldogs cut UT’s lead under 10, 57-49, with 4:42 left. McRae answered by making a driving layup in traffic and was sent to the free-throw line. He missed the free throw, but Stokes corralled the rebound and converted a layup to push the Vols’ lead back to 12.

“They had 42 points in the paint compared to our 24,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “We had to find a way to limit their points in the paint.”

They didn’t. UT made 24 of its 36 field-goal attempts inside the 3-point line.

The one coming with 1:24 remaining was the day’s highlight.

Mississippi State guard Craig Sword, who led the Bulldogs with 19 points, looked to streak past McRae a little past halfcourt. Peeling the ball out, McRae instead reversed course up-floor. Zeroing in on the basket, the junior guard took off from the SEC logo in the paint and uncorked a spinning, flying dunk.

“Everyone was expecting him to do his signature windmill dunk,” Stokes said. “I think that topped it. No one expected him to do that.”

“I don’t know what made me do it, I just did it,” McRae said.

It was a perfect end to an imperfect game for the Vols.

Now it’s time for the Tide. UT and Alabama split the season series, each winning at home. Bama won 68-65 on Jan. 12. The Vols won 54-53 on Jan. 26.

“We played Alabama twice,” Martin said. “There aren’t going to be any surprises tomorrow.”

Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn

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Comments » 14

mocsandvolsfan writes:

360

secondcreek writes:

OK, I admit it, I was VERY unhappy when Pearl was let go and they hired Martin.

BUT I have been impressed by the job Martin has done with this team the last two years.

Oh, and Martin was a Mike Hamilton hire. Where are the Hamilton haters?

jamgod writes:

Here's a hamilton hater but I still like the hire. I still think coach Zoe has got to bring in better talent but he is doing a good job and I like what is happening along with Jones over on the football team....IT seems like it is finally getting back to being happy about being a VOL Fan!! It would be sweet though if we could win a chanpionship in basketball....man I would love to see that at least once before I pass on and I am only 44.....

tonyvick#213307 writes:

I've kinda gotten on the band wagon but where did this kid Quinton Chievous come from? He's a baller.

chipmurphy461 writes:

Got the W

GreeneVol writes:

Good well-rounded effort tonight. Didn't fold from an inspired last gasp from MSU. Ditto on Chievous - guy has a knack for getting to the ball.

Stokes takes his share of punishment but I'm glad he's allowed to dish it out too. It will make him a better player and attract more physical play to the conference - kudos once again for Coach Martin speaking up for him. However, a little mean streak from the big guy now and again would be nice to see...not talking Ezeli or Oriaki punk behavior, just some visible fire. May just not be his nature though, plus I realize he's still finding his game at this next level.

It's great to be a Vol.

BigOrangeFreak writes:

McRae's dunk made ESPN's top plays.

Came in at #3. Not bad, but I'd trade 100 top plays right now for a win over Bama tonight.

GBO! You guys are as capable as anyone in this conference of winning it all. Get er done!

BlueHarley writes:

Would someone please wake up TG before they play the tide...

TommyJack writes:

in response to secondcreek:

OK, I admit it, I was VERY unhappy when Pearl was let go and they hired Martin.

BUT I have been impressed by the job Martin has done with this team the last two years.

Oh, and Martin was a Mike Hamilton hire. Where are the Hamilton haters?

right here

SummittsCourt writes:

in response to secondcreek:

OK, I admit it, I was VERY unhappy when Pearl was let go and they hired Martin.

BUT I have been impressed by the job Martin has done with this team the last two years.

Oh, and Martin was a Mike Hamilton hire. Where are the Hamilton haters?

That doesn't get hammy off the hook for almost destroying the men's sports teams. Not by a long shot.

johnlg00 writes:

in response to secondcreek:

OK, I admit it, I was VERY unhappy when Pearl was let go and they hired Martin.

BUT I have been impressed by the job Martin has done with this team the last two years.

Oh, and Martin was a Mike Hamilton hire. Where are the Hamilton haters?

I would say MOST of us were unhappy when Pearl was let go. The fact that it was at bottom a self-inflicted wound only made it worse. However, Martin had nothing to do with any of that. He was the man who would take the job when the whole basketball world was dumping on UT, and several big names had publicly turned us down. He deserved an honest chance and the full support of all Vol fans. It is only fitting that the bandwagon should be filling up by now. I give you credit for overcoming any disappointment you felt before. I think CCM's future and that of UT basketball are very bright. Next year should be AWESOME, and there should still be good things to come THIS year!

johnlg00 writes:

Good comments on the board today. Hope some of these positive vibes help lift the Vols today. All of you lucky enough to be there, lemme hear ya HOLLAH! GO VOLS!!! TCB!!! Bring back that trophy!!!

HooRay_Vol writes:

in response to secondcreek:

OK, I admit it, I was VERY unhappy when Pearl was let go and they hired Martin.

BUT I have been impressed by the job Martin has done with this team the last two years.

Oh, and Martin was a Mike Hamilton hire. Where are the Hamilton haters?

Hamilton is a very fine man with a compassionate heart and does a lot of faith and mission work. But is ability to be an outstanding AD was totally different..............

govols26 writes:

This team is incredibly weak mentally- when things don't go their way they just break down and whine instead of stepping their game up. That and their absolute lack of discipline on the FT line will ensure they are an early exit from the tournament if they should be so lucky to get there. That comes back to coaching and that is why I honestly think Martin is going to take the Vols down a road of mediocrity as long as he is here. Nice guy, but he'll never take this team further than the sweet 16.

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