Men’s Hoops Falls in Tight Affair at No. 18 Tennessee, 56-53
Published 7:00 am Thursday, January 28, 2021
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee – Iverson Molinar provided 14 of his game-leading 16 points during the second half, but the Mississippi State men’s basketball team was handed a 56-53 defeat by No. 18 Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena on Tuesday.
The Bulldogs (9-8, 4-5 SEC) controlled the battle of the boards for the 15th time in 17 outings on the strength of 15 offensive rebounds. However, State was held to 10 second-chance points and connected on two field goals over the closing 7:50 of the contest.
Tennessee (11-3, 5-3 SEC) took advantage of 18 turnovers by the Bulldogs and came away with a 23-15 edge in points off miscues. The Volunteers also hit on 16 of their 20 field goals on the interior to secure a 32-18 margin in paint points.
The 16-point performance for Molinar marked his 13th double-digit scoring output of 14 games. He relied on a 6-of-12 shooting effort and totaled three rebounds.
D.J. Stewart Jr. garnered nine of his 11 points in the first 20 minutes to make it four consecutive games and 16 of 17 games with double figures on the season.
Abdul Ado turned in six points and pulled down a season’s best 12 rebounds. The 12 boards were one shy of his career-high and enabled to pass former teammate Aric Holman (2016-17-18-19) and Charles Rhodes (2005-06-07-08) into sole possession of 13th place on the program’s all-time list.
Quinten Post stuffed the stats sheet with five points coupled with a career-best 10 rebounds, a career-high tying two blocks and a career-best two steals in his 16 minutes of action.
Deivon Smith managed six points, a SEC career-high five assists and added four rebounds followed by Cameron Matthews’ four points and two rebounds, who made his first SEC start. Tolu Smith tallied five points and six rebounds before he fouled out.
Ado and Post accounted for 22 of Mississippi State’s 42 rebounds to fuel the Bulldogs to a 42-30 advantage on the glass. The Bulldogs have won the battle of boards by a 10-plus rebounding margin in seven games.
For the contest, MSU came away with a 17-of-52 shooting effort from the field (32.7 percent), a 3-of-13 clip from three-point range (23.1 percent) and a 16-of-23 mark at the foul line (69.6 percent).
Tennessee hit on 20-of-54 from the floor (37.0 percent), converted on 3-of-19 on its triples (15.8 percent) and sank 13-of-18 from the charity stripe (72.2 percent).
The Volunteers received a boost from Yves Pons, who notched 13 points and knocked down six of his nine shot attempts prior to collecting five fouls. Jaden Springer returned to Tennessee’s lineup after his missed the team’s last two games with nine points, five assists and four rebounds.
FROM THE BENCH – COACH HOWLAND
“I thought that Abdul [Ado] was tremendous at the glass with 12 rebounds, seven of them on offense. I thought Quinten Post gave us a huge lift, as I heard you talking about him as I came here, with 10 rebounds in his  minutes. So, he definitely is earning more playing time based on his performance against a very good team tonight. I’m pleased about that.”
“18 turnovers are going to be hard to win any when we’re on the road, much less a really good Tennessee team that’s 11th in the [NCAA] NET [rankings]. We’ve got to shoot foul shots better to win. We’ve got to make some shots. We missed a number of shots at the rim that we’ve got to be able to finish better. We had a chance to take a seven-point lead on a wide open three by D.J. [Stewart Jr.]. That was a tough break as we were really playing well.”
“We started Cameron [Matthews] today. I thought our team defense the last two games was the best defense we’ve played all year. We’re playing at Alabama and at Tennessee, two of the top three teams in our league along with Missouri. We had chances in both games to win on the road. We’ve just got to do a few things a little better to be able to complete the task.”
“The fact that we have such high character kids that are really good kids – phenomenal leadership within the team amongst the players starting with D.J. [Stewart Jr.] and Abdul [Ado]. I don’t have [worries]. I think we’ll bounce back, have a great effort and practice on Thursday. Tomorrow, we have to take off. Then, we’ll have another practice and preparation for Iowa State on Friday and play in the [SEC] Big 12 Challenge on Saturday at home.”
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Facing a 15-4 deficit with 13:04 remaining after misfiring on nine of its first 10 shot attempts, Mississippi State found its groove with 16 of the next 21 points over the next 7:45 off the clock.
Iverson Molinar got things started for the Maroon and White with a right baseline jumper from Deivon Smith off an inbounds play. Then, Deivon Smith sank a jumper of his own. He found Quinten Post for a right wing three-pointer and drove coast-to-coast for a layup to make it 16-13 with 9:24 left.
D.J. Stewart Jr. added a traditional three-point play, and Abdul Ado fired in a hook shot courtesy of an offensive rebound to knot the score at 20-20 with 5:19 remaining.
Tennessee responded with six quick points capped by a Santiago Vescovi triple to bring the score to 26-20 at the 2:50 mark. The Volunteers took a 26-23 edge into the locker room.
Molinar got cooking to open the second 20 minutes, and the Bulldogs put together a 14-6 spurt to jump ahead 37-32 with 13:31 to go. He canned a left baseline trifecta from D.J. Stewart Jr., hit a driving finger roll layup and dialed up another trey in transition from Deivon Smith.
Mississippi State maintained a 44-40 advantage after an Ado layup off his own miss with 8:24 remaining. Tennessee turned up its defensive intensity as the Bulldogs were held without a field goal until the game’s final minute.
Following back-to-back buckets from Yves Pons, a John Fulkerson layup gave the Volunteers a 46-44 lead at the 5:52 mark.
Tennessee stretched its lead to two possessions, 52-48 with 2:35 to go, on a controversial putback basket by Keon Johnson. It appeared that Jaden Springer’s preceding shot attempt didn’t beat the shot clock buzzer. Two Johnson free throws brought the score to 54-49 with 1:16 left.
A Cameron Matthews layup pulled the Bulldogs to 54-51 with 42.9 seconds on the clock. Mississippi State forced Springer into a missed shot attempt on the ensuing possession, but Tennessee was able to snatch the offensive rebound.
State was forced to foul with the shot clock turned off. Vescovi rattled home his two foul shots to extend the edge back to five points for the Volunteers with 12.5 seconds.
Molinar responded for State with a runner in the lane with 2.5 ticks for the final score of 56-53. Tennessee was able to inbound the ball on a deep pass from under State’s basket to the other side of the floor to run out the clock.
Mississippi State makes a brief stop at home between its four straight conference road games and steps out of league action to face Iowa State during Saturday’s SEC/Big 12 Challenge.
Tipoff is scheduled for 5 p.m. CT from Humphrey Coliseum, televised by ESPN2 and available online courtesy of the Watch ESPN app.
Visit www.HailState.com for the latest news and information on the men’s basketball program. Fans also can follow the program on its social media outlets by searching ‘HailStateMBK’ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.