“We know it's going to be very tough for us to still get in, but we're not going to give up,” MSU freshman guard Nick Weatherspoon said.
Mississippi State (21-9, 9-8) could have made its life much easier had it been able to take down Tennessee (22-7, 12-5). Early on in Tuesday's game, it looked like the Bulldogs would do just that.
MSU came out firing and took a 2517 lead over the Volunteers a little over 10 minutes into the contest. However, the good times wouldn't last for State. Tennessee scored 15 of the next 20 points in the game to capture the lead and MSU never get back in front the rest of the night.
“We had the lead and got sped up with the excitement of the game,” Howland said. “We didn't handle our lead well.”
By halftime, Tennessee led 40-34. The Volunteers were aided by their ability to get to the free-throw line. Tennessee shot 16 times from the charity stripe in the first half and made 14 of them. State only had five opportunities from the line prior to the intermission and made three.
“We have to get to the foul line,” Howland said. “We only got there 16 times (for the game). That's not enough.”
Tennessee took complete control in the second half. Led by forward Admiral Schofield, who finished with a game-high 24 points, the Volunteers couldn't miss in the game's final 20 minutes. Tennessee shot 68.2 percent as a team in the second half. At one point, the Vols made 11 consecutive shots from the field.
“We had a lot of breakdowns on defense in the second half,” said MSU junior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon, who led the Bulldogs with 17 points.
While State's defense faded down the stretch, so too did the Bulldog offense. MSU shot just 28.6 percent in the second half.
“We just weren't making shots,” Nick Weatherspoon said. “(Tennessee) wasn't doing anything special against us. We just weren't being patient on offense and then we were getting lost on defense.”
It all added up to a flat ending for the Bulldogs in a game that had so much anticipation going in.
So what does MSU do from here? Howland says there is only one thing to do.
“We have to bounce back,” Howland said. “We have no choice.
“We have to learn from this. Everybody has to look inwardly and see what we we can do better. In life or in basketball, you have to bounce back in the face of adversity.”
So with the odds now against them as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned, the Bulldogs now zero in on Saturday's noon game at LSU.
“We have to go get the LSU win,” Quinndary Weatherspoon said. “The (Tennessee) game is over with. We can't hold our heads down and slip up and let LSU beat us on the road. We just have to get back focused.”
Mississippi State's Nick Weatherspoon (0) takes a jump shot over the out-stretched arm of Tennessee's Jordan Bowden.