By Chris Talbott/The Associated Press
STARKVILLE — J.P. Prince had 16 points, Scotty Hopson added 14 and No. 16 Tennessee held Mississippi State scoreless for the first 6:10 and never looked back, finishing the regular season with a 75-59 win Saturday night.
The Volunteers (23-7, 11-5 Southeastern Conference) scored the first 17 points of the game and earned their third straight victory, giving seniors Wayne Chism and Quinn Cannington a school-record 99 wins.
Chism, however, had to be restrained by an assistant coach after the game following a verbal confrontation with Mississippi State players.
The loss forced the Bulldogs (21-10, 9-7) to share the SEC West title with rival Ole Miss, a team they beat twice this season. Mississippi State will open the SEC tournament as the West’s No. 1 seed, while Tennessee is No. 3 in the East.
Tennessee blitzed the Bulldogs from the start, building a quick 17-0 lead by hitting eight of its first 11 shots, including five layups and a dunk.
Kodi Augustus led Mississippi State with 15 points.
Chism appeared to get into a verbal spat shortly after the game with Mississippi State freshman Renardo Sidney, who hasn’t played this season due to an NCAA investigation but sits on the bench at home.
The game was emotional and occasionally chippy, though it was not clear what led to the jawing afterward.
It was an embarrassing loss for the Bulldogs, who opened 0 of 5 from the field and 1 of 6 from the free throw line, and didn’t make their first basket until Phil Turner’s layup.
It was a curious start for Mississippi State, which was celebrating senior night and two of its most accomplished players — Jarvis Varnado and Barry Stewart. The Bulldogs were also on the hunt for a quality win in their pursuit of an NCAA tournament bid.
Yet it was Tennessee — with its seeding for the SEC tournament secure and its place in the NCAA tournament assured — that appeared to be juiced for the game. The Volunteers had four steals in the first 5 minutes and dominated the paint. In the first half they outscored the Bulldogs 30-6 under the basket and had 12 points off eight turnovers.
Even the bench got into the act, outscoring Mississippi State’s reserves 16-2.
It also was a poor start for Varnado. College basketball’s career blocks leader had three first-half points and was 1 of 3 from the field, 1 of 6 from the free throw line and committed four turnovers.
The Bulldogs were 6 of 25 (24 percent) in the first half and trailed by 17 three times, including 38-21 at halftime after Cameron Tatum’s layup at the buzzer — the ninth layup of the first 20 minutes.
Hopson, who made a verbal commitment to the Bulldogs before signing with Tennessee, sparked the Vols’ early push after Prince opened the game with a 3-pointer. Hopson fearlessly drove past Varnado for a layup, then dropped his shoulder to bull past Stewart for a 7-0 lead. He dropped in his third layup of the opening run to make it 17-0 at 14:23.
Hopson also stopped Mississippi State short when the Bulldogs got off to a quick start in the second half. After Ravern Johnson and Augustus hit back-to-back 3s to open play, Hopson stopped the mini-run with two free throws, then added two 3-pointers a few minutes later to push the lead back to 48-32 with 15:55 left.
The Bulldogs made a few runs the rest of the way, but never got closer than 53-44 with 10:12 left. The Vols answered with a quick 8-0 spurts to push it back out to 61-44 with 7:28 left.
Overall, they held the Bulldogs to 20-of-59 shooting from the field (33.9 percent), outrebounded them 46-30 and had a 48-20 advantage in the paint.