Valiant effort by Bulldogs falls short against Tennessee

Tennessee'’s Isabelle Harrison is defended by Mississippi State players, from left, Victoria Vivians, Dominique Dillingham, and Chinwe Okorie. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Saul Young)

Tennessee’’s Isabelle Harrison is defended by Mississippi State players, from left, Victoria Vivians, Dominique Dillingham, and Chinwe Okorie. (AP Photo/The Knoxville News Sentinel, Saul Young)

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – A spirited second-half rally fell short as No. 18 Mississippi State dropped a 79-67 Southeastern Conference women’s basketball decision to No. 6 Tennessee Sunday afternoon at Thompson-Boling Arena.

MSU trailed by five points at halftime and fell by down as many as 15 after an 11-0 UT run in the early stages of the second half. The Bulldogs kept working hard and got the deficit back down to five points at 70-65 with 3:19 left in the contest.

MSU saw its four-game win streak snapped, while falling to 22-3 and 7-3. The Bulldogs enter the final four weeks of regular season play in sole possession of third place in the league standings.

With the win, Tennessee improved to 19-3 overall and 9-0 in conference play – tied atop the league standings with No. 1 South Carolina.

“Tennessee is hard to deal with,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “We just couldn’t guard them. I thought our kids competed awfully well. You have it back to five with three-something to go and we needed a stop. We made quite a few mistakes but that is not to take anything away from Tennessee. They are really good.”

Freshman Victoria Vivians led the way for MSU offensively with 17 points on a 6-of-13 day from the field. Vivians had 13 first-half points and has now scored 17 or better in the last three conference games for the Bulldogs.

The Maroon and White also placed Breanna Richardson (13 points), Kendra Grant (11 points) and Jerica James (10 points) in double figures. Against one of the conference’s premier inside games, Martha Alwal held her own with eight points, three rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.

Dominique Dillingham had five assists and three rebounds, while Vivians added a pair of blocks and three boards to her monster offensive night.

Both teams started strong offensively. Vivians began the night hot from outside and Alwal made her presence felt down low early.

Neither team had better than a three-point lead before Tennessee inched to a 27-23 advantage with 5:03 left in the half. The Bulldogs were back even before falling down five at 32-27 after a 3-pointer from Jordan Reynolds and two free throws from Jaime Nared.

Tennessee led 36-31 at halftime.

In the second half, a 3-pointer by James brought the Bulldogs within 48-44. Tennessee then found its best separation of the day with a 9-0 run for a 59-44 lead with 13:03 left.

The Bulldogs were down 14 at 70-56 before putting together a 9-0 run. Richardson and Grant combined to score all of the points on the run.

Tennessee answered with the game’s next seven points to move the contest back out of reach.

“This was a good basketball game. It was tough and competitive,” Schaefer said. “I think we proved to the country that we are worthy of where we are ranked and where we are in the league. Give Tennessee credit because they withstood every run we made.”

For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 28 of 60 shots from the field (46.7 percent), 5 of 16 shots from 3-point range (31.3 percent) and 6 of 8 shots from the foul line (75.0 percent). The Lady Volunteers hit 29 of 51 shots from the field (56.9 percent), 4 of 6 shots from 3-point range (66.7 percent) and 17 of 21 shots from the foul line (81.0 percent).

Tennessee held a 35-25 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 13 assists and 10 turnovers, while the Lady Volunteers had 18 assists and 15 turnovers.

Tennessee received 24 points from Cierra Burdick, 17 points from Bashaara Graves and 11 points from Isabelle Harrison.

MSU will enjoy its first open date of the season Thursday before welcoming Texas A&M to the Humphrey Coliseum for a 2 p.m. start Sunday. The nationally-ranked showdown will be televised across the nation by the SEC Network.

Mississippi State will host its first February Hail State Hoops Luncheon Thursday beginning at 11:30 a.m. Cost for the event, which will be held in Mize Pavilion, is $12. Fans can RSVP by calling (662) 325-0198 or e-mailing

(From MSU Media Relations)

I have covered Mississippi State in some capacity since 2004 and joined the Daily Journal staff in 2013. I enjoy short walks on the beach, performing concerts in my car and watching professional wrestling.

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