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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Thursday, March 14, 3:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Bridgestone Arena (20,000) -- Nashville, Tennessee. Television: SEC Network. Home Record: MSU 7-7, UT 13-3. Away Record: MAU 1-11, UT 4-7. Neutral Record: MSU 2-3, UT 2-1. Conference Record: MSU 4-14, UT 11-7. Series Record: Tennessee leads, 76-41.
GAME NOTES: After surviving their first-round matchup, the 13th-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs will try to keep their run in the SEC Tournament going on Thursday afternoon when they take on the fifth-seeded Tennessee Volunteers in the second round at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville.
Awaiting the winner in Friday's quarterfinal round is fourth-seeded Alabama.
Mississippi State's season has been anything but memorable, as it went just 4-14 in the SEC, which included a 13-game losing streak. Things have been looking up for the Bulldogs of late however, as they have won three of their last four, including a 70-59 decision over South Carolina in Wednesday's first round, to improve to 10-21 overall.
Tennessee appeared to be in the midst of a less-than-stellar season at the beginning of February, but since then it has played exceptionally well by posting wins in eight of its last nine, including a 64-62 triumph in its regular-season finale against Missouri. At 19-11 overall and with signature wins over Mizzou, Florida, Kentucky and Wichita State, the Vols figure to be in the mix with regard to an at-large bit to the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in this event.
These two teams met just once this season, with Tennessee making easy work of Mississippi State at home on Jan. 19, 72-57. The Vols now lead the all-time series, 76-41.
The Bulldogs led their first-round contest from the opening tip, shooting nearly 47 percent from the field while holding South Carolina to less than 38 percent shooting in the 11-point victory. Pacing four players in double figures was Fred Thomas, who poured in 21 points on 4-of-8 from 3-point range while also logging five steals. Colin Borchert and Roquez Johnson each netted 11 points in the winning effort, while Gavin Ware added 10 points and seven rebounds. Despite scoring 70 points or more in four straight games, MSU still boasts one of the worst scoring offenses in the SEC (60.9 ppg) and paired with a porous defense (69.5 ppg), it owns the league's worst scoring margin (-8.6). Craig Sword (10.2 ppg) and Jalen Steele (10.1 ppg) are the only players who average in double figures, but Thomas, Johnson, Borchert and Ware all pitch in between 8.6 and 9.7 ppg.
With the help of a 12-3 run late in the second half, Tennessee was able to pull off a come-from-behind win over Missouri in its latest game, as it managed to overcome a poor shooting effort (.367) by hitting 81.3 percent from the foul line and winning the rebounding battle by a convincing 45-32 margin. Jordan McRae led the way with 15 points, while Jarnell Stokes tallied 13 points and 13 rebounds (six offensive) for his 14th double-double of the season. Trae Golden and Josh Richardson were also impressive in the winning effort with 12 and 11 points, respectively. On the season, the Vols have a strong defense which allows just 63.5 ppg, and their mediocre offensive attack (66.8 ppg) has improved during their recent hot stretch. McRae is the top scoring threat with 16.2 ppg, while Stokes (12.4 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.2 bpg) can body up with any big man in the league. Golden adds 12.1 ppg to the mix, and he has more than twice as many assists (115) as turnovers (54).
Mississippi State has played its best basketball of late, and with a little bit of momentum in this tournament anything can happen, but Tennessee has been too impressive this season to falter to an inferior squad, especially given its NCAA Tournament aspirations.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tennessee 71, Mississippi State 62
03/14 10:51:18 ET
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