Vols withstand late rally, edge BulldogsFeb 3, 2008 - 6:28 AM STARKVILLE, Mississippi (Ticker) -- Mississippi State went on a late run but it was Tennessee that walked away with a key Southeastern Conference victory.
Chris Lofton scored 20 points and the eighth-ranked Volunteers withstood a late charge by the 25th-ranked Bulldogs to post a 76-71 victory on Saturday.
Tennessee looked to have the matchup of SEC division leaders firmly in hand before Mississippi State went on a 24-9 run late in the second half.
"That was a great game tonight. Road wins are very difficult to come by in this league," Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl said. "I thought we certainly had some challenges tonight. We got into foul trouble, but Mississippi State is just such a physical team that we fouled them way too much and got ourselves into some big time foul trouble. To keep them off the offensive boards and to hold them to only eight offensive rebounds was really key for us."
Barry Stewart, who made a career-high six 3-pointers, capped the surge with a three from the corner to cut Tennessee's lead to 73-71 with 39 seconds to play.
Tennessee took a 36-27 advantage into halftime and continued to expand its lead, taking control of the game, 64-47, with 6:27 to play. But the Bulldogs answered back, sparked by three consecutive 3-pointers by Stewart then Jamont Gordon pitched in three straight of his own to close the gap.
"I hit those threes and then (Jamont Gordon) put up that one after mine and it just started rolling from there," Stewart said of the comeback.
Mississippi State (14-7, 5-2 SEC West) got the ball back with a chance to tie or take the lead after Wayne Chism missed the front end of a 1-and-1. But the Bulldogs squandered their chance as freshman Riley Benock was called for a travel.
"I have not seen the film, but I believe he had the shot," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "He is very capable of knocking down that shot and has proven that, especially after his play at the Ole Miss game. You need to take that shot when the opportunity is there. The worst thing is out of that we got a turnover, not just a missed shot."
Jordan Howell then made one of two free throws for Tennessee (19-2, 6-1 East) with 15 seconds left. Howell then rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Gordon and sank a pair from the line in the closing seconds to ice the game.
Stewart finished with 21 points and Gordon added 17 for the Bulldogs, who have lost two straight after a nine-game winning streak.
"As coach told us, they didn't get our best. I know we didn't rebound as well as we usually do," Stewart said. "We defended pretty decent, but I think it shows that we have a lot of fight in us. We have some things to work on."
JaJuan Smith was the only other player in double figures for the Volunteers with 15 points.
Tennessee, which entered the game tied with Florida atop in the Eastern Division, was playing on the road for the third time in its last four conference games. The Vols now lead the East after the Gators lost at Arkansas earlier on Saturday.
"I found out why Tennessee is so good. They make plays when they have to make plays," Stansbury said. "The difference in the game, in my eyes, was that we gave up too many offensive rebounds. Give them credit, they are a very good team. We did not play our best and they had a lot to do with that."
The Vols lead the all-time series, 73-38, with 12 of the last 16 games decided by eight points or less.
- NCAA BB
FINAL 1ST 2ND TOTAL
--- --- -----
TENNESSEE (8) 36 40 76
MISSISSIPPI ST (25) 27 44 71 FINAL
Feb 2 9:10 PM
- NCAA BB
(8) TENNESSEE 36
(25) MISSISSIPPI ST 27 HALFTIME
Feb 2 7:56 PM
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