FINAL: Tennessee 72, MSU 57

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. | Recapping MSU’s 72-57 loss to Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena on Saturday.

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• The buzz: Back in his hometown, junior guard Jalen Steele led MSU in scoring but sat out much of the second half with leg cramps. MSU (7-9, 2-2 SEC) couldn’t find much offense without him, and it also had foul trouble and defensive breakdowns. Tennessee (9-7, 1-3) snapped a four-game losing streak and got some balanced scoring for the first time in a while.

• Turning point: MSU pulled within 42-37 early in the second half when the Volunteers went on a 13-2 run, sparked by a trio of Derek Reese 3-pointers. That gave Tennessee a 55-39 lead with 11:38 to go.

• MVP: Steele, who had 11 of his 15 points in the first half and kept things close as the Bulldogs struggled to find offense in the post.

• MSU leaders: Steele 15 points (6-10 FGs, 1-3 3FGs, 2-2 FTs); Fred Thomas 14 points (4-9 FGs, 2-3 3FGs, 4-5 FTs), 4 rebounds, 2 assists; Craig Sword 10 points (5-11 FGs, 0-1 3FGs), 3 assists; Trivante Bloodman 9 points (2-4 FGs, 0-1 3FGs, 5-5 FTs), 2 assists; Gavin Ware 6 points (3-6 FGs), 9 rebounds.

• Tennessee leaders: Jarnell Stokes 18 points (7-13 FGs, 4-7 FTs), 11 rebounds, 2 blocks; Josh Richardson 16 points (6-9 FGs, 1-2 3FGs, 3-3 FTs); Jordan McRae 12 points (5-12 FGs, 2-5 3FGs); Trae Golden 10 points (4-8 FGs, 0-1 3FGs, 2-3 FTs), 9 assists.

• Key stats: MSU’s Colin Borchert was 0 of 7 from the field. … MSU shot 37.5% overall, 33.3% (3-12) from 3-point range, 85.7% (12-14) from the free throw line. … Tennessee shot 46.7% overall, 41.2% (7-17) from 3-point range, 69.2% (9-13) from the free throw line. … UT outscored MSU 42-16 in the paint. … UT out-rebounded MSU 37-32. … Sword and Ware both fouled out.

• Highlight reel: Sword flashed his quick first step several times today and had a couple of tough finishes in the second half.

• Quotable: “We’re just doing a terrible job inside as far as finishing. We’re getting some opportunities in the paint, but I think we had 10 misses in the paint in the first half alone. We’ve got to do a better job somehow getting those finishes. It goes back to use not having practice bodies.” – MSU coach Rick Ray

• Bottom line: A lot of what plagued MSU against Alabama surfaced again today. The inside game wasn’t there early on, which led to State taking some poor outside shots. The fouls and lack of rebounding underscore the fact that the Bulldogs simply don’t have a lot of big bodies. Fatigue and youth are a bad combination, and it’s going to be a tough riddle for Ray to solve.

• Up next: MSU is on the road again Wednesday, traveling to Arkansas (8 p.m., CSS).

In the video above, from left: Steele, Bloodman and Borchert.

I am the online content coordinator for DJournal.com. Previously at the Journal, I covered Mississippi State athletics (2008-13), high schools (2004-08), and was on the copy desk (2002-04). I'm working on a recipe for bacon-flavored coffee, which would solve all the world's problems.

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