Mississippi State (18-8, 8-7), now with a two-game losing streak of their own, pulled to within 6 at the halftime.
"We dug ourselves a hole early in the basketball game," said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury. "When you are fighting back early on the road, you are expending so much energy. To our kids credit, we fought and got back (in the game) and cut it to six at halftime."
Never seeming to get into any kind of offensive rhythm throughout the game, the Bulldogs, through excellent defense in the second half, pulled to within two, 46-44, with 6:10 minutes to go.
However, from that point on, Tennessee's defense, 8th in the SEC in field goal defense, held Mississippi State to one three-pointer and two free throws the rest of the half.
MSU, trying to stay close despite their offensive woes, had to resort to fouling Tennessee, hoping that they would miss enough free throws to allow MSU to get back into the ball game. However, Tennessee, the top free-throw shooting team in the SEC, made 8 straight free throws, 7 by C. J. Watson, down the stretch to win the game and send MSU home with two back-to-back disappointing road losses.
"They got to the (free thrown) line a bunch," said Stansbury. "It seemed like every close, questionable call at the end of a shot clock there was a foul on us. That's the way it is when you go on the road."
MSU was led in scoring by Mario Austin with 13 points. No other Bulldog scored in double figures.
Tennessee was led in scoring to Ron Slay with 17 points and Brandon Crump with 16.
"Slay is a great player," said Stansbury. "Even though he got 17 points, I thought that we did a great job on him. The guy that hurt us was Crump.
"There were three chances when the shot clock was basically at one second where we either gave up one three-point play to Crump, Crump gets a dunk or we foul Watson. When you are on the road fighting for your life, and you have really defended, you can't give up easy things up at the end of the shot clock. And that is what we did."
After having won 36 straight games when allowing their opponent less than 65 points, the Bulldogs, the top defensive team in the SEC, have now lost two straight games when they allowed their opponents less than 65 points (55 and 59 points).
Despite the two consecutive losses, the Bulldogs can still win the SEC Western Division championship at the Hump this Saturday afternoon with a win over the Auburn Tigers, a winner over Arkansas Wednesday night.
"We have to put this one behind us," said Stansbury. "We have put ourselves in a position to play for a (Western Division) championship Saturday. That's what we have to go do."
MISSISSIPPI STATE (18-8)
Harper 2-5 2-2 6, Ignerski 2-6 0-0 5, Austin 3-6 7-8 13, Bowers 3-12 0-0 8, Zimmerman 1-2 2-2 4, Campbell 2-4 0-0 4, Frazier 1-5 2-2 5, Vincent 1-2 2-4 4, Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 15-42 15-18 49.
Turner 0-1 0-0 0, Slay 5-9 5-8 17, Clemmons 0-0 0-0 0, Holden 2-8 2-2 6, Higgins 3-7 0-0 7, Herndon 0-0 0-0 0, Asumnu 1-3 1-2 3, Crump 6-9 4-5 16, Wilborn 0-1 0-0 0, Watson 1-5 8-12 10. Totals 18-43 20-29 59.
Halftime -- Miss St 27-21. 3-Point goals -- Miss St 4-15 (Bowers 2-8, Ignerski 1-2, Frazier 1-3, Harper 0-2), Tennessee 3-11 (Slay 2-2, Higgins 1-4, Watson 0-1, Turner 0-1, Holden 0-3). Fouled out -- None. Rebounds -- Miss St 29 (Austin 7), Tennessee 28 (Slay 6). Assists -- Miss St 10 (Bowers 4), Tennessee 10 (Watson 5). Total fouls -- Miss St 24, Tennessee 16. A -- 13,796.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org