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Mississippi State ‘very motivated’ vs. No. 5 Tennessee

Tennessee forward Uros Plavsic (33) takes a shot during a game between the Tennessee Vols and the Kentucky Wildcats, in Thompson-Boling Arena, in Knoxville, Tenn., Saturday, Jan. 14, 2023.

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Credit: Caitie McMekin/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

No. 5 Tennessee will look to pick up the pieces Tuesday, hitting the road to face Mississippi State three days after the Volunteers’ 25-game home winning streak came crashing down in a defeat to Kentucky.

Tennessee’s 63-56 loss Saturday, to what had been an inconsistent Kentucky side, came after it was outrebounded 43-23 as the Volunteers (14-3, 4-1 SEC) never managed to match the physicality of the Wildcats.

Volunteers leading scorer Santiago Vescovi (12.9 points per game) played through a shoulder injury early in the game and scored 13 points but was just 1 of 6 from 3-point range after going 17 of 30 (56.7 percent) over his previous five games.

Uros Plavsic had 19 points for Tennessee while going 9 of 11 from the field. The rest of the Volunteers combined to shoot 14 of 46 (30.4 percent) from the field.

“Every game, people are working real hard to take away our perimeter players,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “And we missed a lot of shots at the rim, a couple of them uncontested. The fact is, we had some looks that we didn’t make.”

The defeat ended Tennessee’s five-game winning streak that followed a 75-70 loss on the road to then-No. 9 Arizona.

“The difference in the game was rebounding,” Barnes said. “They did everything they wanted to do on the boards. When you look at what they shot from the floor and the 3-point line (35.3 percent and 31.3 percent), that’s good enough to win most games. But you can’t foul as much as we fouled.”

Tennessee’s second-leading scorer Olivier Nkamhoua (11.1 per game) was held to two points on 1-of-3 shooting over 13 minutes.

Mississippi State (12-5, 1-4) enters after a 69-63 loss at No. 21 Auburn on Saturday when its comeback from a 30-22 halftime deficit and a 13-point deficit with 13:12 remaining fell short. The Bulldogs pulled within 57-53 with 2:34 remaining but never got any closer.

Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith did his part with 20 points and 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season and first in conference play. Smith leads the Bulldogs with 14 points and 7.8 rebounds per game. D.J. Jeffries is second in both categories with 9.4 points and 6.3 rebounds.

“I told them, we lost that game in the first half,” first-year Mississippi State head coach Chris Jans said. “(We had) 13 turnovers in the first half. The game got away from us. It should have been a one or two-point game in the 20s, and we just turned the ball over too much. … We put a lot of pressure on our defense and really felt like we had enough fight in us to win this game, but we just dug ourselves a hole.”

Now the Bulldogs will have to improve on their performance Jan. 3 when they absorbed an 87-53 defeat at Tennessee. Mississippi State shot 39.6 percent in that game and was outrebounded 34-19.

“We’re very motivated,” Smith said. “I know it’s just another game, but (the loss to Tennessee) left a sour taste in our mouths.”

–Field Level Media