Hoops heartbreaker

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The ball tends to bounce the wrong way when you're a road team in the SEC ... a lesson Tennessee learned in painful fashion Thursday night at Starkville.

Down 60-58, the Vols inbounded the ball to point guard and leading scorer Trae Golden at side midcourt with 11.3 seconds left. As he crossed halfcourt, however, Golden slipped and bounced the ball off his foot. Mississippi State's Dee Bost retrieved the loose ball, then drove for a game-clinching dunk as the No. 20 Bulldogs eked out a 62-58 victory.

"I got the ball on the side and was about to attack and make the play, then I slipped," Golden said on the post-game show. "My left foot slipped from under me. I lost the ball and lost the game."

Mississippi State improves to 14-3 overall, 1-1 in SEC play. Tennessee slips to 8-8 and 1-1. The Vols return to action Saturday, hosting No. 2 Kentucky in a noon tipoff.

Golden led Tennessee with 20 points. Power forward Jeronne Maymon, limited to just 18 minutes by foul troubles, hit 6 of 9 shots and scored 13 points before fouling out with 1:14 left. Center Kenny Hall added 12 points for the Vols.

"Most impressive was Kenny Hall and Jeronne and those guys playing through tough foul situations, staying aggressive and continuing to attack," Vol head man Cuonzo Martin said.

Golden finished 7 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range. He got no offensive help from his perimeter mates, however. Starting wings Cameron Tatum (0-7) and Josh Richardson (0-4) combined to go 0 for 11 from the field.

"We're going to have those nights," Golden said. "Coming into an away gym with a great crowd, it can be hard to shoot sometimes. But I have a lot of confidence in those guys. They'll be ready to play Saturday."

Bost produced 13 points and 4 steals for Mississippi State, the final steal being the biggest play of the game. Big men Renardo Sidney (6-10, 270) and Arnett Moultrie (6-11, 249) also scored 13 points for the Bulldogs.

Even in defeat, Tennessee did some good things. Playing their first SEC road game, the Vols shot a decent 42.6 percent (23 of 54) from the field, including a sizzling 50 percent (7 of 14) from 3. They also outrebounded the towering Bulldogs 35-28.

Tennessee's defense was very good, limiting Mississippi State to 44.0-percent shooting, including just 36 percent in the second half. The Bulldogs managed just one field goal between the 14:57 mark and the 6:00 mark, during which the Vols trimmed a 34-45 deficit to 47-51.

"The guys did a good job of competing," Martin said. "We had an eight-minute stretch where they only got one field goal, so it was a great job by our guys."

The Bulldogs played some defense, too, however, forcing 14 turnovers and blocking 10 shots.

Tennessee managed to set a deliberate tempo for much of the game. The exception was the final 2:45 of the first half, when Mississippi State used a 9-2 spurt to widen a 27-25 lead to 36-27 at the break.

A 3-pointer by Knoxville native Jalen Steele padded the Bulldogs' lead to 12 points (39-27) early in the second half, then Tennessee began chipping away. Hall scored inside to narrow the gap to just 56-53 with 3:34 left. Bost nailed a 3 for the Bulldogs but Hall scored off an inbounds play, closing the deficit to 59-55 with 1:44 remaining.

Moultrie hit a free throw, then Renaldo Woolridge drained a huge 3-pointer as Tennessee closed to 60-58 with 44.6 seconds left. A crosscourt pass by Bost was intercepted by Tennessee's Skylar McBee with 20 seconds left, then the Vols called timeout with 11.3 seconds remaining to set up their final offensive play.

Although Mississippi State shot 10 more free throws (13 of 17 versus 5 of 7), Martin was pleased with the aggressive defensive play of his troops.

"That's the way we want to play," the coach said. "We want it physical, we want it assertive. We want to get up in you and make you work for everything."


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