Tennessee beats Mississippi State 61-47
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall was fine with Detrick Mostella's first 3-point shot. The second one - not so much.
But the freshman nailed them both and it was one of many contributions from unheralded players that helped the Volunteers beat Mississippi State 61-47 on Wednesday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
''He's a guy who can give you an offensive burst off the bench - that's what he does,'' Tyndall said. ''He's not a guy that's ever turned down a shot, I can promise you that.''
Kevin Punter led Tennessee with 15 points and Josh Richardson added 11. Derek Reese added eight points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
Richardson - who is one of the Volunteers' few veterans - said he was proud to see some of the young players like Mostella step up and contribute in an SEC win.
''I've got a lot of faith in my teammates,'' Richardson said.
Tyndall, the first-year Volunteers coach, earned a win in his SEC debut. Tennessee (9-4, 1-0 SEC) won using a suffocating defense, forcing Mississippi State (7-7, 0-1) into just 30.6 percent shooting (11 of 36) from the field.
Tennessee wasn't great on offense either - going more than 12 minutes at one point during the first half without a field goal - but used a 22-5 run early in the second half to put the game away. The Volunteers never trailed in the second half and led by as many as 18.
''It's never going to be pretty offensively,'' Tyndall said. ''We are what we are.''
Mississippi State has lost seven of nine games dating back to Nov. 29. The Bulldogs shot just 24 of 44 (54.5 percent) on free throws.
Gavin Ware led Mississippi State with 12 points and nine rebounds, but was sitting on the bench during much of the second half while Tennessee made its second half charge. Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said Ware's defense was hurting the Bulldogs.
Tennessee won despite constant foul trouble and 18 turnovers. The Volunteers committed 32 fouls and three players fouled out, but it didn't matter much because the Bulldogs couldn't convert on their free throws.
''This game boiled down to our inability to make free throws,'' Ray said. ''We did what we wanted to do against their zone, which was attack and get the ball into the paint and we got to the line 44 times.''
The Volunteers broke the game open when Mostella made back-to-back 3-pointers in a span of 8 seconds in the second half.
He sank the first one from the corner, immediately stole the inbounds pass and then hit another off-balance try from the same spot to push Tennessee ahead 38-27 with about 13 minutes remaining. It was the only six points Mostella scored the entire game.
The quick burst of offense was a rarity.
It was a strange, sloppy first half that featured more combined turnovers (20) than made field goals (14).
Tennessee jumped out to a 12-0 lead in the first five minutes, but Mississippi State responded with its own 12-point run to tie the game.
The Volunteers led 26-23 at halftime. Devon Baulkman led Tennessee with 10 points and three rebounds in the first half.
Mississippi State has struggled badly over the last month, with embarrassing non-conference losses to Arkansas State, USC Upstate and McNeese State.
And an ugly game against the Volunteers didn't do anything to stop the slide. The Bulldogs' starting five combined for just 17 points and the bench couldn't make up the difference.
Mississippi State came into conference play last in 3-point shooting percentage, making just 49 of 185 (26.5 percent) from long range. The Bulldogs made just 1 of 9 from 3-point range on Wednesday ... Tennessee has won 10 out of the last 13 in the series, including four straight.
Tennessee hosts Alabama on Saturday.
Mississippi State travels to face Florida on Saturday.
Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP