FACTS & STATS: Site: Thompson-Boling Arena (21,678) -- Knoxville, Tennessee. Television: SEC Network. Home Record: MSU 5-2, UT 6-2. Away Record: MSU 1-3, UT 0-4. Neutral Record: MSU 1-3, UT 2-1. Conference Record: MSU 2-1, UT 0-3. Series Record: Tennessee leads, 75-41.
GAME NOTES: A pair of SEC foes hoping to bounce back from losses earlier this week meet in Knoxville on Saturday afternoon, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs pay a visit to the Tennessee Volunteers.
Mississippi State snapped a season-long, three-game winning streak on Wednesday night when it suffered an embarrassing 75-43 home loss to Alabama. The setback dropped the Bulldogs to 7-8 overall, although it was their first defeat in three SEC bouts, having previously taken down South Carolina (56-54) and Georgia (72-61).
Tennessee was sitting pretty at 8-3 following a 51-47 win over Xavier on Dec. 29, but things have not gone according to plan in the new year, as it has dropped four straight games to fall to just one game over .500. The Vols are 0-3 in SEC action, having lost to Ole Miss (92-74), Alabama (68-65), and most recently Kentucky (75-65) on Tuesday.
The Vols have a firm handle on the all-time series between the two teams, 75-41, although the Bulldogs have won the last two meetings.
Although Mississippi State kept its bout with Alabama close in the first half, it completely lost control after intermission, as it trailed by as many as 37 points in the blowout loss. The Bulldogs shot just 35.6 percent from the floor, while allowing the Crimson Tide to make nearly 54 percent of their total shots. They also committed 21 turnovers, and the only player to score in double figures was Fred Thomas, who netted a mere 10 off the bench. Roquez Johnson is MSU's leading scorer with 11.4 ppg, although he boasts a rather dreadful assist-to-turnover ratio (5-to-37). Jalen Steele (10.6 ppg) and Thomas (10.0 ppg) are both regular contributors, but neither shoots better than 37 percent from the floor. Craig Sword (9.6 ppg) and Gavin Ware (8.1 ppg, 7.0 rpg) are also solid players, but as a team, the Bulldogs average only 61.9 ppg on 41 percent field goal efficiency, both of which rank 12th in the SEC. Their stellar scoring defense (63.3 ppg) allows them to remain competitive in most games, however.
Tennessee actually held a one-point lead against Kentucky with 7:19 to play in Tuesday's contest, but it allowed the Wildcats to finish the game on a 22-11 run as it was eventually saddled with the double-digit setback. It was solid shooting performance for the Vols, who made greater than 46 percent of their field goal attempts, but they were only 4-of-12 from 3-point range and 11- of-17 at the foul line. Jordan McRae was the lone player in double figures for UT, shooting 8-of-18 from the floor on his way to 23 points. McRae (13.9 ppg) is one of the hottest players in the country, scoring 24.0 ppg over the last four contests, although Tennessee has been on the losing end of all four. Trae Golden is an impressive distributor (4.2 apg), but he shoots just 36.1 percent from the field for his 10.9 ppg. Jarnell Stokes is as steady as they come in the frontcourt, pouring in 10.7 ppg on 51.8 percent efficiency while adding 7.5 rpg and 1.0 bpg for good measure. As a team, UT hasn't nearly been as impressive at the offensive end of the court (65.2 ppg) as it has on defense (62.7 ppg), although even its average scoring yield has suffered during the current skid as it has allowed 79.3 ppg in the last four.
The Vols have struggled against some stiff competition of late, and they are anxious to get back home where they have won six of eight this season. MSU will have a tough time bouncing back in such a difficult venue for opposing teams.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tennessee 68, Mississippi State 55
01/19 10:33:25 ET
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