NASHVILLE – Twenty wins sounds far better than 19 on a NCAA tournament resume.
Thanks to Tennessee’s 69-53 victory against Mississippi State on Thursday at Bridgestone Arena, the Vols got exactly that. Led by four players in double figures, Tennessee (20-11) pushed past the shorthanded Bulldogs and into the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament.
The fifth-seeded Vols will face Alabama, the tournament’s No. 4 seed, Friday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern.
Jordan McRae led UT with 17 points, including an eye-popping 360 dunk in the game’s closing moments. He was joined in double digits by Trae Golden’s 15 points and 10 apiece from Jarnell Stokes and Quinton Chievous.
Despite boasting a roster trimmed by injuries to six scholarship players, 13th-seeded Mississippi State (10-22) never wilted despite trailing the whole way.
The Vols mounted a 14-2 run over 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 led 35-19 at halftime on 15-of-31 shooting.
Never going away, 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.
Mississippi State was led by 19 points from Trivante Bloodman.
Tennessee and Alabama split the season series, each winning at home. The Tide won 68-65 on Jan. 12. The Vols won 54-53 on Jan. 26.
More coming online and in Friday’s News Sentinel.
Brendan F. Quinn covers Tennessee men’s basketball. Follow him at Twitter.com/BFQuinn