Fast-starting Vols roll

A quick start is critical on the road, and you can't start much quicker than Tennessee did Saturday at Humphrey Coliseum in Starkville.

The 16th-ranked Vols raced to a 17-0 lead and never let Mississippi State closer than nine points thereafter en route to a 75-59 victory in the regular-season finale.

J.P. Prince produced 16 points to pace five double-figure scorers for Tennessee, which takes a 23-7 overall record and an 11-5 league mark into next week's SEC Tournament. Scotty Hopson added 14 points, Bobby Maze, Brian Williams and Cameron Tatum 10 each. Williams also speared a game-high 13 rebounds for his first double-double of the season.

Kodi Augustus scored 15 points to pace SEC West co-champ Mississippi State, which slips to 21-10 overall and 9-7 in league play. Jarvis Varnado and Dee Bost added 11 each. Varnado, the NCAA's all-time leader in blocked shots, added two to his career total in this game but had minimal impact on the outing.

Tennessee dominated statistically, shooting 50 percent from the field and limiting Mississippi State to 33.9 percent (20 of 59). The Bulldogs, who ranked third among SEC teams in 3-point percentage at 36.2 coming in, made just 28.1 percent (9 of 32) beyond the arc in this game. The Vols also owned the backboards, piling up a 46-30 advantage, and outscored MSU 48-20 on points in the paint.

The performance was so impressive that even UT head coach Bruce Pearl was pleased.

"It was really good, start to finish," he said on his post-game show. "I'd say that's the best basketball we've played. That's the way you're supposed to play the game at this time of the year."

Tennessee got just 1 point from star player Wayne Chism, who was limited by two first-half fouls, but it didn't matter. Williams and freshman Kenny Hall (6 points, 4 rebounds in 12 minutes) gave the Vols plenty of inside punch against the undersized Bulldogs.

"I'm encouraged," Pearl said. "We're playing well, the kids are playing together and they've got a focus. I'm really pleased."

The 17-0 opening salvo - especially coming on the road - was amazing. Prince started it by nailing a 3-pointer as the shot clock was expiring. Hopson scored on a pair of nifty drives, then Hall dunked in transition as the Vols went up 9-0 with less than four minutes gone.

Maze got a layup off a nifty pass from Prince, then Hall hit a 6-footer from in front as the bulge swelled to 13-0. A Prince layup and a Hopson layup off a steal widened the gap to 17-0 with 14:22 left to halftime. Tennessee was 8 of 11 from the field at this point, Mississippi State 0 of 6.

"We hit 'em in the mouth so hard so fast that they just couldn't overcome it," Pearl said.

The Bulldogs finally got on the scoreboard when Phil Turner broke free for a layup with 13:45 left to halftime.

MSU whittled the deficit to 11 at 19-8 but the Vols answered with a 6-0 spurt. The Dogs again pulled within 11 at 30-19 but Tennessee closed the half with an 8-2 run to go to the locker room leading 38-21.

Mississippi State crept within 11 yet again (38-27) by draining a couple of 3-pointers to open the second half but Hopson answered with two 3s of his own.

The Bulldogs' most serious rally of the night whittled the gap to 53-44 with 10:12 remaining but Tennessee responded with an 8-0 spurt that rebuilt the lead to 17. Prince scored on a drive, Tatum dunked off a Maze feed, Williams scored on a layup and Maze banked home a driving 7-footer.

"Depth was a factor," Pearl said. "Our bench outscored theirs 24-11. Even though they were behind they didn't have the energy to mount a great comeback."

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