By The Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Jordan McRae scored 17 points Thursday as fifth-seeded Tennessee defeated No. 13 seed Mississippi State 69-53 in the second round of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Tennessee (20-11) won for the ninth time in its last 10 games to advance to a Friday quarterfinal against No. 4 seed Alabama (20-11) in a matchup of NCAA tournament bubble teams. Tennessee and Alabama split their regular-season matchups, with the home team winning each time.
Trae Golden had 15 points and Jarnell Stokes and Quinton Chievous added 10 points apiece for Tennessee. Chievous’ 10 points represented a career high for the redshirt freshman.
Craig Sword scored 19 points, Colin Borchert had 12 and Trivante Bloodman added 10 for Mississippi State (10-22).
Mississippi State scored the first four points of the game, but Tennessee answered with a 12-0 run and never looked back. The short-handed Bulldogs were feeling the effects of playing their second game in as many days.
The Bulldogs entered the SEC tournament with just six scholarship players after four members of its roster had season-ending injuries. Junior guard Jalen Steele and freshman guards Andre Applewhite and Jacoby Davis tore anterior cruciate ligaments. Senior forward Wendell Lewis fractured a right patella tendon.
Mississippi State still managed to beat South Carolina 70-59 on Wednesday by outworking the Gamecocks and capitalizing on uncharacteristically accurate 3-point shooting.
The Bulldogs shot just 34.5 percent overall (20 of 58) and 21.4 percent from 3-point range (3 of 14) against Tennessee. Even though Mississippi State fought to make a game of it in the second half, the Bulldogs never made a serious threat.
McRae sank a 3-pointer and converted a steal into a conventional three-point play to start the 12-0 run that helped the Vols take control. Mississippi State hung around for a little while and trailed 21-14 midway through the first half, but Tennessee went on a 14-2 spurt and led 35-19 at halftime.
McRae and Chievous each scored four points during that spurt, which culminated with a Chievous dunk.
After totaling 32 points in Tennessee’s first 29 games, Chievous has 17 points over his last two contests. Chievous, the son of Missouri all-time leading scorer and former first-round draft pick Derrick Chievous, had seven points against his father’s old team in the Vols’ regular-season finale.
Mississippi State finished the first half with 11 turnovers and just seven baskets.
The Bulldogs were last in the SEC in 3-pointers per game (4.7) and 3-point percentage (.281) during the regular season, but they went 7 of 15 from beyond the arc against South Carolina. They reverted to form Friday and struggled to get anything going on offense.
Mississippi State played much better in the second half while Tennessee coasted and got careless with the ball. The Bulldogs finally cut the Vols’ lead to single digits when a Craig Sword free throw made it 58-49 with less than 5 minutes remaining.
That apparently shook Tennessee out of its second-half funk.
Once the lead got down to nine, McRae drove to the basket and scored while drawing a foul. Although he missed the ensuing free throw, Stokes tipped in the offensive rebound to extend Tennessee’s lead to 62-49.
The lead wouldn’t drop below 11 again, as McRae provided some late excitement by doing a 360 on a game-clinching dunk in the closing minutes.
This marked the second matchup between Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin and Mississippi State coach Rick Ray, who worked together as Purdue assistants from 2006 until 2008. Tennessee had defeated Mississippi State 72-57 in Knoxville on Jan. 19.