By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Jalen Steele’s homecoming wasn’t so sweet.
Mississippi State’s junior guard led the team with 15 points, but it wasn’t enough in a 72-57 loss to Tennessee on Saturday. Steele spent much of the second half on the bench with leg cramps, the second time in four games he’s battled those.
“This game was more like tightness in my hamstring, tightening up more. I didn’t want to risk injury,” said Steele, who made 6 of 10 shots.
The 6-foot-3 Fulton High product wasn’t able to play here two years ago because of an ACL injury.
When Steele was introduced before the game, the Tennessee fans gave him a warm welcome.
“I didn’t hear a whole lot of boos,” he said. “It felt good when they called my name and said ‘Knoxville.’”
Steele was not offered by then-Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl, but he sure impressed the Volunteers on Saturday.
“I knew he was a great shooter; I didn’t know he was that quick,” UT guard Josh Richardson said.
Guard Craig Sword and center Gavin Ware both fouled out, and early foul trouble made it tough on MSU’s already thin rotation. It was the fifth time this season Sword, a freshman, has fouled out.
“That’s the biggest problem for us right now, is we put ourselves in a bind because we always end up with two of our bigs with two early fouls,” Ray said.
Player of the game
Steele started well, scoring 11 points in the first half.
“Off the ball screens, (their) man kept rolling, and nobody was picking him up. It was killing us.” – MSU guard Trivante Bloodman
MSU stays on the road with a trip to Arkansas on Wednesday (8 p.m., CSS).