C.J. Watson hit 8 of 10 field goal tries and scored 19 points as the Vols moved to 13-3 overall and 4-1 in SEC play. The win, coupled with South Carolina's 68-62 defeat of Florida, gives UT sole possession of first place in the Eastern Division. Tennessee hosts South Carolina Saturday at 5 p.m.
Andre Patterson, starting in place of Stanley Asumnu, produced his second double-double in a row – 13 points and 11 rebounds. Asumnu came off the bench to add 12 points and super sub JaJuan Smith chipped in 11.
"We made a change in the lineup, and I thought Andre responded well to it," UT coach Bruce Pearl said on his post-game show. "I thought Stanley responded well to it coming off the bench. JaJuan came off the bench and responded well to it. It was a positive all the way around."
Tennessee outshot the Bulldogs 52 percent to 32 percent from the field and 37.5 to 18 percent from 3-point range. The vertically challenged Vols hung with the taller Bulldogs on the backboards, too, losing by a scant 42-40 margin. MSU started 6-4 Reginald Delk in place of 7-2 Wesley Morgan in an effort to upgrade its ball-handling. The ploy worked as the Bulldogs committed just 17 turnovers, three below their season's average.
Tennessee bolted to a 14-5 lead but Gordon scored twice to spark a 9-0 State spurt that tied the score at 14.
Asumnu hit the first bucket and the last two in a 21-5 explosion that moved the Vols in front 35-19. A Bulldog rally narrowed the gap to 10 (39-29) but Patterson drained a couple of free throws and Smith hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving Tennessee a 44-29 halftime advantage.
"That might have been the (final) nail in the coffin right there," Pearl said. "That really, really sent us into the locker room looking good and sent them into the locker room a little deflated."
Tennessee wasn't finished, though. Watson hit from outside and Patterson from inside as Tennessee went up by 19 (48-29) less than a minute into the second half. Freshman Ryan Childress nailed a 3-pointer that padded the lead to 20 (65-45) and Major Wingate scored inside to give UT its biggest lead at 25 points (73-48) with 11:13 to go.
Tennessee coasted home from there.
"I think we played really solid at both ends of the floor," Pearl said.