Tennessee connection

Six native Tennesseans will be on the floor when Tennessee and Mississippi State tip it up this afternoon at 4 in Thompson-Boling Arena. Surprisingly enough, four of the in-staters will be wearing maroon.

The visiting Bulldogs (9-4) start four guys who played their high school ball in the Volunteer State – 6-foot-4 twins Richard and Reginald Delk (Jackson), 6-foot-4 Jamont Godon (Nashville) and 6-foot-9 Jarvis Varnado (Brownsville). Moreover, their sixth man is 6-foot-2 Shelbyville native Barry Stewart. Gordon and the Delks are sophomores, Varnado and Stewart are freshmen.

The Tennessee boys are playing quite well for MSU coach Rick Stansbury, too. Gordon leads the teams in points (15.3), rebounds (7.6) and assists (4.7) per game. Stewart is second in scoring at 11.6 points and is the team's best 3-point shooter at 38.2 percent. Reginald Delk contributes 9.3 points per game and Richard Delk 7.4. Varnado chips in 7.2 points and 6.0 rebounds.

The long-armed Varnado has blocked 35 shots in 13 games thus far, ranking No. 13 nationally with an average of 2.7 rejections per game. He had a monster night against New Orleans earlier this season – 13 points, 15 rebounds and 7 blocks. Since beating out 2005-06 starter Charles Rhodes four games into this season, Vernardo has shot 65 percent from the floor in his nine starts.

Reginald Delk broke MSU's freshman record with 59 baskets from 3-point range last year but got off to a slow start beyond the arc (6 of 24) this year. He has warmed up lately, hitting 15 of his last 39 treys.

Stewart is probably glad today's game is in Knoxville, not Starkville. He is hitting 40.1 percent of his 3-pointers on the road, compared to 36.4 percent at home.

Mississippi State ranks No. 1 in the SEC and No. 5 nationally in field-goal defense, allowing opponents to shoot just 36.5 percent from the floor.

Tennessee (12-2) is riding an eight-game winning streak. The Vols haven't won nine games in a row since the 2000-01 team opened 9-0.

Following today's SEC opener, Tennessee plays five of its next six games on the road.


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