The Lady Vols fell in overtime to Mississippi State for a second consecutive road loss despite the first career double-double from Jordan Reynolds. Go inside for game analysis.
Tennessee (12-8, 3-4) fell to Mississippi State (18-4, 4-4) for the first time in program history, though the Bulldogs entered Thursday’s game as the higher-ranked team at No. 13 to No. 19/23 for the Lady Vols.
But Tennessee took a 58-43 lead into the fourth quarter after putting together an effective third quarter and then took nearly four minutes to score in the fourth quarter. The game was knotted at 58-58 at the end of regulation.
Mississippi State took the lead in overtime, but a block by Bashaara Graves with 17 seconds left gave Tennessee a last-shot opportunity trailing by two points, 65-63. But for the second game in the row a missed layup cost the Lady Vols a chance at a victory. Te’a Cooper had a lane to the basket, but the ball bounced off the front rim.
“I am sick for our kids,” Coach Holly Warlick said. “They are hurting right now. It didn’t go our way in the end.”
The game was knotted at 33-33 at halftime after Jordan Reynolds got an offensive board and buried a three-pointer. The Lady Vols got the turnovers under control with just six in the first 20 minutes and added six assists. Andraya Carter drained both of her three attempts, hitting nothing but net on tight rims that clanked if the ball hit iron.
Tennessee opened the game by going inside and building a 10-4 lead, but then the Lady Vols got a tad shot happy, and Mississippi State went on an 11-2 run that was ended by Graves to pull the Lady Vols to within one point, 15-14 in the first quarter. The foul calls piled up for both teams with 12 whistles against Tennessee and 10 against Mississippi State before the break.
The Lady Vols shot 53 percent (13-25) in the first half and 3-5 from long range thanks to Carter’s two makes and Reynolds’ shot at the buzzer. Tennessee left points at the line after shooting 44.4 percent (4-9) with three misses coming from Te’a Cooper. Any free throw that drew iron – as all three of her attempts did – met an unforgiving rim.
The Lady Vols put to rest their third quarter woes and then opened the fourth quarter with a tentative approach. In hindsight, the starters needed to open that quarter, too, as Tennessee got out of sync and ultimately would score just three points in the final 10 minutes.
Tennessee was hurt by Mississippi State’s offensive rebounding and an abundance of whistles – two factors that can take a toll on a team with little margin for error. Ultimately, the difference came in those two categories. Tennessee was 12-20 from the line, while Mississippi State was 14-20. The Bulldogs had 19 second-chance points to 15 for the Lady Vols.
The Lady Vols did get the turnovers under control with 14 and were knotted on the boards 46-46 with Mercedes Russell grabbing 10 to go with eight points. Reynolds recorded her first career double-double with 15 points and 11 boards.
The junior guard was a vocal leader in timeouts.
“Whatever it takes to get our team to play well,” Reynolds said.
She also made a case to be reinserted in the starting lineup. Reynolds replaced Diamond DeShields, who tweaked an ankle. DeShields logged 30 minutes and attempted four shots, making one.
It is now abundantly clear that DeShields is physically ailing – she has a leg injury that required surgery over a year ago and still causes considerable pain because of shin splints – and needs fewer minutes on the court.
Cooper can be an electrifying point guard and should be given the chance to make mistakes, but the freshman is also still learning the college game on both ends. She notched 11 points with three boards. Carter added 11 points and four boards.
Reynolds called the last two losses “heartbreaking” and noted there were a lot of tears in the locker room. Against Kentucky, the Lady Vols came out flat in the third quarter. Tennessee fixed that issue against Mississippi State only to have the team tighten up in the fourth quarter.
A full four quarters remains elusive. If Tennessee can get to that point, the Lady Vols can rattle some cages the rest of the way.
“I think we can build off of this,” Warlick said. “We played hard, and we played tough. They battled.”
Mississippi State also switched up its defense in the fourth quarter after staying in man for the first 30 minutes. The Bulldogs showed zone and then switched to man and vice versa. The shots that fell for Tennessee in the first three quarters didn’t connect in the final 10 minutes.
The Lady Vols have a potential superstar in DeShields – and she is needed, as her jump shot can be silky smooth – but the redshirt sophomore is not healthy. DeShields struggled to keep her player in front of her, which led to an and-one play for Mississippi State in overtime. Any rest Tennessee can find for DeShields will help her down the road.
Carter logged 32 minutes, a number that taxes her knee, but the redshirt junior played stout defense and was a big reason Victoria Vivians was 4-16 from the floor for 14 points with five coming from the stripe. Dominique Dillingham tallied 14 points for Mississippi State.
As a team, the Bulldogs had 20 offensive boards to 10 for Tennessee. The Lady Vols shot 43.6 percent (24-55) for the game, while Mississippi State shot 32.9 percent (24-73).
Reynolds noted that plenty of basketball remains on the schedule.
“We really do care about this program,” Reynolds said. “We really are working hard. These losses have taken a toll on us. But there are a lot of games left in the season.”
Andraya Carter and Jordan Reynolds