"It was really the same old story for our basketball team," MSU head coach Rick Ray said. "We were not able to finish in the paint. We did good things, offensively getting the ball inside. However, our finishing was not good. It has not been all year. In the first half, we had 10 misses in the paint. It was hard to overcome that."
The Volunteers (9-7, 1-3) scored 42 points in the paint area, compared to 16 for the Bulldogs (7-9, 2-2). Tennessee shot 51.7 percent from the field in the opening half, based largely on numerous second shot attempts. The fast start allowed the hosts to build a 37-29 halftime lead, which was never relinquished.
Tennessee sprinted to an early 8-2 lead less than four minutes into the contest. A Jalen Steele 3-point basket capped five straight points for the Bulldogs and tied the contest at 11. MSU would take its only lead of the contest at 14-13 on a Gavin Ware dunk with 11:38 left in the half.
Ware held his own against Tennessee's ferocious inside game. The true freshman from Starkville pulled down nine rebounds - his most in a league game this season.
MSU's lead was short lived as Tennessee rolled out to 25-18 advantage on a Jordan McRae layup with 7:32 left in the half.
The Bulldogs did close back within four before trailing 37-29 at the intermission.
"Our guys did a really good job of preserving throughout the afternoon," Ray said. "Our defensive effort was good, even though we lost our man too much on ball movement. We got some rebounds, but just could not convert on the other end."
The Bulldogs were back with in four at 39-35 on a Craig Sword jumper with 17:29 left. The Volunteers scored the game's next seven points. Still, MSU hung tough and was still within single digits as late as the 4:14 mark in the contest.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 21 of 56 shots from the field (37.5 percent), 3 of 12 shots from 3-point range (25.0 percent) and 12 of 14 shots from the foul line (85.7 percent). The Volunteers hit 28 of 60 shots from the field (46.7 percent), 7 of 17 shots from 3-point range (41.2 percent) and 9 of 13 shots from the foul line (69.2 percent).
Tennessee held a 37-32 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 11 assists and 13 turnovers, while the Volunteers had 19 assists and 11 turnovers.
Steele paced the Bulldogs with 15 points, including 13 points in the first half. Fred Thomas added 14 points, while Sword added 10 points. Colin Borchert added five rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 23 minutes.
Jaylen Boyd led Tennessee with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Sheldon McClellan added 16 points, while McRae finished with 12 points. Danny Newsome also pulled down 11 rebounds in 25 minutes of action off the bench.
MSU remains on the road for Wednesday contest at Arkansas. The Bulldogs and Razorbacks tip at 8 p.m. from Bud Walton Arena, with a regional broadcast scheduled for Comcast Sports Southeast.