GAME NOTES: A pair of SEC teams trending in the wrong direction will meet up at Humphrey Coliseum on Wednesday night, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs play host to the Tennessee Volunteers.
Tennessee is on the brink of getting its NCAA Tournament bubble burst following losses in three of its last four games, most recently dropping an 68-65 overtime decision at Texas A&M on Saturday. The Vols are 16-11 overall this season and 7-7 in the SEC, but they have not fared well away from home at a mere 2-7.
The Vols' struggles don't come close to comparing to Mississippi State's, however, as it has dropped nine consecutive decisions to slip to 13-14 and tied for last place in the SEC at 3-11. The Bulldogs failed to take down Arkansas at home on Saturday, losing 73-69, and they have now dropped four straight at home after winning 11 of their first 12 in Starkville this season.
In regards to the all-time series, Tennessee holds a 77-41 advantage over Mississippi State, although the Bulldogs have a slim 27-26 advantage in Starkville.
The Vols erased an eight-point deficit with under four minutes left in regulation in their latest game and forced overtime in the waning seconds with a Jarnell Stokes dunk, but in the extra session they fell victim to a game- winning 3-pointer by Texas A&M with four seconds to go. They shot a modest 42.6 percent from the field while allowing A&M to make good on 47.3 percent of its tries, and they were also plagued by a game-high 14 turnovers. Jordan McRae posted a game-high 20 points, Stokes (16 points, 16 rebounds) and Jeronne Maymon (16, 13) both tallied double-doubles and Josh Richardson added 11 points to the well-rounded effort.
Tennessee is typically solid on both ends of the floor this season, shooting 44.5 percent from the field for 71.9 ppg, while allowing just 63.3 ppg on 42.1 percent shooting, and it also boasts one of the nation's best rebounding margins at +8.3. McRae leads the way with 19.3 ppg, having drained 64 3- pointers at a 38.3 percent clip. Stokes (14.4 ppg, 10.4 rpg) and Jeronne Maymon (10.5 ppg, 8.1 rpg) make up one of the nation's best frontcourt duos, with each shooting better than 51 percent from the field. Richardson brings 9.6 ppg to the table and has scored more than that in seven of the past eight games.
The Bulldogs fell behind by as many as 15 points with under seven minutes left in their most recent contest, and while they were able to cut that deficit to four in the final minute, time ran out on their comeback attempt. Although they shot a solid 44.1 percent from the field, they were a dreadful 10-of-21 from the free-throw line and committed a game-high 16 turnovers. Colin Borchert was on fire from 3-point range (5-of-6) en route to 21 points off the bench. Roquez Johnson tallied 11 points and nine rebounds, while Craig Sword and Trivante Bloodman netted 10 points apiece.
Unsurprisingly, Mississippi State ranks near the bottom of the SEC in both scoring offense (68.3 ppg) and scoring defense (70.6 ppg), and while its .444 field-goal percentage is respectable, it has been well below average from 3- point range (.307) and the foul line (.657). Sword is the top scoring threat with 13.5 ppg, while swiping nearly two steals per outing on the defensive end of the floor. Gavin Ware (10.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg) knocks down greater than 60 percent of his field-goal tries, while Borchert (9.4 ppg) and Johnson (9.3 rpg) have also been solid.
Although Tennessee hasn't played up to its abilities in recent weeks, it'll have a golden opportunity to get back on the winning track in this one against the floundering Bulldogs.
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