By The Associated Press
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — As Dee Bost drove the court with less than 10 seconds on the clock, Wendell Lewis knew he either had to be in position under the basket to score off either an assist or a rebound. He also knew he had little room for error.
“I saw (Bost) spinning,” Lewis said. “We hadn’t really made eye contact, so when I saw him throw the ball to me, I was like, ‘I’ve got to dunk it, that’s the only way. If I lay it up, he’s going to try and block it. So I might as well go up aggressive and go ahead and dunk it.’ ”
Dunk it he did with 3 seconds left, sending Mississippi State to a 70-69 win over Tennessee on Saturday.
It was the Bulldogs’ first victory in Knoxville since 1999, Rick Stansbury’s first season as coach. It also moved them into a tie with Arkansas for second place in the Southeastern Conference’s West Division with two games left to play, even though Mississippi State had entered the game having lost three of its last four.
The Bulldogs (15-13, 7-7) also did it without starting guard Jalen Steele, who tore his left anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in a loss to LSU on Wednesday. In the second half, they were also without Renardo Sidney, who had averaged 23 points in his last two outings but became sick at halftime.
“This win is special because you know what a quality team we just beat and a quality program we just beat with the job (Tennessee coach) Bruce Pearl has done,” Stansbury said. “That makes it special. We beat a very good basketball team that is well-coached and as good as anybody in this league.”
They also beat a team that’s been playing unusually poor at home lately. The Vols (17-12, 7-7) have lost three of their last four at home and seven total, the most in Pearl’s six seasons.
It was Pearl’s first regular-season loss to the Bulldogs. The Volunteers had won six of the previous seven meetings, with Mississippi State’s lone victory coming in the finals of the 2009 SEC tournament in Tampa, Fla.
The Vols’ loss dropped them into fifth in the SEC East and followed up a week that saw Pearl get slapped with allegations of unethical conduct and other charges by the NCAA after a 22-month investigating into recruiting. And for the first time in 10 seasons as a Division I coach, Pearl won’t have a team with at least 10 conference victories.
“We are not getting good leadership from within the team,” Pearl said. “We have some competitors who have no leaders. We’re not playing well offensively, and we haven’t all year.”
Mississippi State was up 68-64 after Brian Bryant hit a pull-up jumper with 1:12 left. Bost fouled Tennessee’s Melvin Goins, who hit a pair of free throws with 53 seconds to go.
Riley Benock missed a 3-pointer for Mississippi State, fouled Scotty Hopson on the other end, and Hopson hit the first of two foul shots. The ball was tipped out of bounds and went to Tennessee after Hopson missed the second shot, and Tobias Harris dunked the inbound pass to give the Vols a 69-68 lead with 10 seconds left.
Bost drove the floor and dished to Lewis, who was in perfect position under the basket for the dunk and was fouled by Brian Williams in the process. Lewis missed his free throw, and Hopson missed a shot from half court as time expired.
Ravern Johnson led Mississippi State with 20 points, Kodi Augustus got his eighth double-double of the season with 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Bost added 14 points.
Hopson had 22 points and Harris had 16 for the Vols.
The teams came out of halftime tied at 34. Tennessee outscored the Bulldogs in the paint 36-28, but Mississippi State shot at a 43.8-percent clip and hit 5 of 14 from 3-point range.
Augustus hit all three of his 3s in the second half, and the third one gave the Bulldogs a 56-49 lead with 7:54 to play.
Tennessee shot 38.7 percent in the second half but used an 11-2 run after Augustus’ last 3 to take a 60-58 lead with 4:24 left. The game, which included 11 lead changes and nine ties, remained close the rest of the way.
The teams were pretty evenly matched through halftime, with Mississippi State shooting 35.5 percent and Tennessee hitting 34.3 percent.
“It’s very disappointing any time you lose but especially the way we lost,” Goins said. “We got beat to some hustle plays. It was a bad thing for us. It feels bad.”