“Our veteran guards Craig Sword and Fred Thomas really rang the bell and made some crucial 3-pointers,” MSU head coach Rick Ray said. “We had some turnovers and gave up a lot offensive rebounds, but we really attacked the rim, got to the free throw line and then made some big 3-pointers.
“That made up for the areas in which we didn’t play as well.”
Sword paced the Bulldogs with 26 points, including a 7-of-8 night from the field and 4-of-5 night from 3-point range. Sword, who made his first seven shots attempts, also hit 8-of-10 free throw attempts. Thomas was equally damaging outside as he scored 20 points, including a 4-of-5 night from 3-point range.
Tennessee took advantage of some early MSU turnovers to build a 13-7 lead. Sword and Thomas were just beginning to heat up though as back-to-back 3-point baskets capped a 10-2 run for a 17-15 lead.
Tennessee went better than three minutes without a field goal as a Thomas 3-pointer pushed the MSU lead to 20-17. Things then went back-and-forth for a stretch before a tipin by Roquez Johnson gave MSU a 32-30 lead at halftime.
MSU stretched the lead to 40-32 in the early stages of the second half. A Josh Richardson jumper capped a 9-0 run and gave UT its only lead of the second half at 41-40 with 13:31 remaining.
The Bulldogs responded with an 11-2 run to grab a 51-43 lead with 10:01 left. Again, the run was highlighted by two treys from Sword, another from Thomas and strong play inside by Oliver Black.
Tennessee closed within one at 58-57 but Sword had an answer with another triple and Gavin Ware followed with a layup off a Thomas offensive rebound to seal the deal.
“For our guys to come in win and in Knoxville for only the 11th time in the history of Mississippi State basketball really speaks to how big a win this was for us,” Ray said.
For the contest, MSU hit 19 of 34 shots from the field (55.9 percent), 8 of 11 shots from 3-point range (72.7 percent) and 25 of 35 shots from the foul line (71.4 percent). Tennessee hit 25 of 60 shots from the field (41.7 percent), 5 of 20 shots from 3-point range (20.0 percent) and 11 of 17 shots from the foul line (64.7 percent).
Tennessee held a 33-26 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 10 assists and 18 turnovers, while the Volunteers had 16 assists and 14 turnovers.
Ware had a team-high eight rebounds for the Bulldogs.
Tennessee received 30 points from Richardson and 10 points from Kevin Punter.
MSU returns to action Saturday at Arkansas. The Bulldogs and Razorbacks gather for a 3 p.m. start in a game televised nationally on the SEC Network.