Vols score first 16 points, trounce Mississippi State 87-53

Photo Credit: Andrew Ferguson/Tennessee Athletics
By Justin Clemmer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – No.  8 Tennessee poured all of the energy from the new year onto the hardwood, closing the door on Mississippi State soon after the opening tip.

Five minutes into the game, Tennessee found themselves up 16-0, Santiago Vescovi hit all three of his triples during that span. He continues his hot shooting after being the only Vol to connect from deep in their last game

“Guys did a really good job fighting for space,” said Coach Barnes.

He wasn’t the only one, the entire team was lighting it up from deep. They shot 9-14 from three in the first half. Tyreke Key was the other Vol who hit multiple triples in that time span. 

Tennessee kept the foot on the gas, they had an even more efficient 2nd half, only missing six of their 25 shots. Zakai Ziegler made it easy for his teammates. He had a spectacular game, dishing out a career-high 10 assists on top of his 11 points, three steals, and four rebounds.

“I thought he saw the floor really well, thought he was really smooth when the inside-out passes came to him,” said Coach Barnes. 

It’s hard to single out one player because the whole team shined, five players were in double figures and Tobe Awaka was one point away with a career-high nine points. 

Josiah Jordan-James returned to action for the first time since Dec. 8, he was welcomed by a warm applause and then soon erupted TBA after bringing down an alley-oop for his first points. That was easily the loudest the arena has been all season. 

“We wanted to keep him somewhere between 15 and 20 (minutes),” said Coach Barnes. “The last couple of days in practice, he’s been the Josiah we know he can be.” 

Jordan-James would finish the game with eight points on five shots and four assists, all while only logging 17 minutes. He credits his availability to new medicine when asked how this recovery process was different from his last one earlier this season.

“Yeah it definitely does (feel different), I’ve been on a new medicine for about 3-4 days… haven’t felt any pain,.” Jordan-James said.

Get his physician a raise because that medicine could be the unsung hero of the Vols’ season if it allows Jordan-James to put up the numbers he has in the past.

Despite his absence, there’s been no doubt that Julian Phillips has filled his role nicely. Tonight he had 11 points shooting 5-6 from the field along with seven rebounds. And of course, just like the rest of the team has all season, he brought it on the defensive end.

As a unit, the Vols held Mississippi State to 39.6% from the field and 22.2% from three. They will most likely keep their title for the highest defensive rating in the nation for at least a week. 

Tennessee will lace them up again this Saturday, Jan. 7, as they visit Columbia to take on 7-7 South Carolina. One can only hope Spencer Rattler doesn’t become a two-sport athlete between now and tip-off.