GREENVILLE, S.C. – The Lady Vols led by six after the first quarter but couldn’t hold on against a top-seeded Mississippi State team that shot 61.5 percent in the second half, falling in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament, 83-68, on Friday.
The sophomores led the way for Tennessee (19-12) with Evina Westbrook scoring 19 points while dishing out six assists, and Rennia Davis logging 16 points and eight rebounds. Senior Meme Jackson was also in double figures with 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting.
The No. 5/5 Bulldogs (28-2) were led by a trio of seniors with Anriel Howard pouring in 26 points, Jazzmun Holmes finishing with 16 and Teaira McCowan turning in a double-double with 17 points and 13 rebounds.
Tennessee struggled offensively out of the gate, remaining scoreless for the first three and a half minutes until Westbrook found Cheridene Green in transition for a layup to get UT on the board down four at 6-2. That sparked a 6-0 run that saw the Lady Vols tie it up at 6-all with just over five minutes remaining in the quarter. UT took its first lead of the game off a Westbrook 3-pointer at the 4:18 mark, going up 9-7. That would be the first of five lead changes in the quarter before Meme Jackson knocked down back-to-back threes and Cheridene Green sank two free throws to put UT up 23-17 at the end of the first period.
Mississippi State rallied back in the second, managing an 8-0 run to go up 27-25, but Rae Burrell answered with a 10-foot jumper on the other end to tie it up at 27 with just over five minutes left in the half. The Bulldogs stretched the lead to 38-29 with an 11-2 run before Westbrook responded by knocking down a baseline three to cut the deficit to six. Burrell blocked two shots on the defensive end, but MU closed out the quarter with five points, including a three-pointer at the buzzer, to take a 43-32 lead into the break.
Davis got things started for the Lady Vols in the second half, knocking down a baseline three to pull UT within 10. The teams continued to trade baskets in the opening minutes with the 10-point differential holding through the media timeout when the score stood at 54-44. Davis cut the lead to nine on UT’s first possession following the timeout off a Westbrook assisted layup, but the Bulldogs closed out the quarter with a 9-6 run to lead 64-51 heading into the final stanza.
Westbrook scored the first basket of the fourth quarter, but the Bulldogs bounced back with a 6-0 run en route to leading by 23 with just under 3 minutes to play. Tennessee closed out the game with a 9-1 run, but it wasn’t enough as UT fell to MSU in front of a crowd of 4,431 at Bon Secours Wellness Arena.
Up Next: Tennessee will resume practice while awaiting the NCAA Tournament Selection Show on Monday, March 18.
Coming Out Hot: The Lady Vols poured in 23 points in the first quarter against Mississippi State, the second most the Bulldogs allowed in an opening stanza all year. The only team to score more points in a first quarter against MSU was Texas A&M with 24 on Feb. 17.
Cleaning The Glass: Tennessee out-rebounded MSU 32-30, an improvement over their initial meeting in which the Bulldogs out-rebounded UT by eight. The Lady Vols have now out-rebounded 26 of 31 opponents on the season by an average of 43.1 rpg. to 34.1 rpg.
Draining Threes: The Lady Vols knocked down nine treys against Mississippi State, tying their second highest total of the season and marking the first time since playing Belmont on Dec. 30 that they recorded nine threes.