KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP)Santiago Vescovi scored 14 points, Zakai Zeigler had 11 points and 10 assists, and No. 8 Tennessee beat Mississippi State 87-53 on Tuesday night.
The Volunteers (12-2, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) had five players score in double figures as they won for the 24th consecutive time at home, dating to the last game of the 2020-21 season. Julian Phillips scored 11 points and Olivier Nkamhoua and Uros Plavsic had 10 each.
”(Zeigler) saw the floor well,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. ”He was smooth when the inside-out passes came to him.”
Zeigler downplayed his double-figure assists. ”It was just making the right feeds and guys were making shots,” he said.
Tyler Stevenson scored 15 points to lead the Bulldogs (11-3, 0-2), who dropped their third straight. Mississippi State’s leading scorer and rebounder, 6-foot-11 Tolu Smith, had a quiet game with nine points and two rebounds.
Tennessee scored the first 16 points of the game, hitting 6 of 8 shots and 4 of 5 3-pointers. Mississippi State went the first 6:14 without scoring. The Bulldogs missed all five of their shots and had three turnovers. Tennessee led 46-22 at halftime.
”The definition of a gut punch,” said Mississippi State coach Chris Jans said. ”In the blink of an eye, the mood completely changed. You couldn’t draw up a worse start.”
”We did an unbelievable job of playing hard,” Barnes said. ”We got some rhythm going.”
Tennessee hit 36 of 52 shots (69%) from the field. The Vols only shot three free throws and made all of them.
The Vols had a come-from-behind victory over Ole Miss that may have counted against them. They slipped a spot to No. 8 in this week’s poll, being passed by Alabama. . The Associated Press issued 19 polls in the 2022 calendar year. Tennessee was listed in all of them. Its highest rank was No. 5 in last season’s year-end poll.
Mississippi State: After winning their first 11 games, the Bulldogs were ranked as high as No. 15 in the poll. The Bulldogs have wins over Marquette, Utah and Minnesota. If Mississippi State is going to recover from this skid, it will need Smith to lead the way.
Tennessee: The Vols continue to be patient in terms of the physical readiness of redshirt senior Josiah-Jordan James. Coach Rick Barnes said James is ”doing better” as he tries to come back from knee soreness that has caused him to miss eight of the first 13 games. His minutes were limited Tuesday, but he went full speed with a steal and dunk in the first half and finished with eight points in 17 minutes.
Mississippi State: Hosts rival Ole Miss on Saturday.
Tennessee: At South Carolina on Saturday.
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