February 2, 2008
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- Chris Lofton scored 20 points and JaJuan Smith added 15 as No. 7 Tennessee turned back a late rally to beat Mississippi State 76-71 on Saturday night.
The Volunteers (19-2, 6-1 SEC) have won 15 of their last 16 overall and four straight against Mississippi State. They looked like they'd have an easy time of it against the Bulldogs (14-7, 5-2) after building a 17-point lead early in the second half.
But Mississippi State hit 7-of-8 3-point field goals over the last six minutes to cut Tennessee's lead to 73-71 with 39.2 seconds left. Jordan Howell made three free throws in the final 15 seconds and Jamont Gordon missed one last 3-point attempt to end Mississippi State's rally.
Barry Stewart led Mississippi State with 21 points, including 6-of-8 on 3-pointers, Gordon added 17 and Charles Rhodes scored 15.
The Bulldogs had hit just 3-of-12 3-point attempts before the rally, but were done in by 12 missed free throws.
Both teams' best moments were fueled by 3-point shots.
After Mississippi State opened by holding Tennessee without a point for the first 2:33, Tennessee twice hit four straight 3-pointers in the opening half, first to get back in the game, then to sprint out to a 36-27 halftime advantage.
After Lofton hit two 3-pointers for Tennessee to tie the game at 10 with 11:50 left, Tyler Smith hit a pair on back-to-back possessions that started a 6-for-6 stretch for the Volunteers over a four-minute span.
The Volunteers then split open the Bulldogs' defense with a 16-6 run that included the second stretch of 3-pointers with two from forward Wayne Chism, who was left open on the perimeter as Mississippi State attempted to double-team another player.
Smith and Chism were 4-for-5 on 3-pointers in the first half and the Volunteers, the SEC's top 3-point team with 9.5 per game, were 8-for-16. They hit 12 total and looked like their prowess from deep would make the difference after the Bulldogs started so poorly.
Tennessee had held its opponents to 23 of 112 shooting from 3-point range (20.5 percent) in the six games before Saturday, but let Mississippi State back in it with rare lapses late that let the Bulldogs finish 10-for-21.
Stewart hit four consecutive 3s to begin Mississippi State's rally and the Bulldogs held the Volunteers without a field goal over the final 3:16. But a late turnover, a Chism block and Gordon's miss sealed the win.
The Bulldogs have lost two straight after winning nine consecutive games overall and five straight to start the conference schedule.
Coach Rick Stansbury was stopped shy of his 200th win for the second straight game and Jarvis Varnado finished three blocks shy of the single-season school record of 106 with two. Rhodes had 10 rebounds and five of the team's 10 blocks.
Lofton moved into seventh on Tennessee's career scoring list, hopping Dyron Nix (1,877 from 1985-89), and now has 1,891.
#7 Tennessee now gets ready for #20 Florida. That game will be Tuesday at 9 p.m. in Knoxville on ESPN. The Gators fell to Arkansas Saturday afternoon 80-61.