KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mississippi State showcased one of its greatest strengths while exposing Tennessee’s major weakness.
The eighth-ranked Bulldogs forced 23 turnovers in a 72-55 triumph at No. 23 Tennessee on Thursday night.
Mississippi State (21-3, 9-1 Southeastern Conference) is forcing 22 turnovers per game and entered the night leading all SEC teams in that category.
“I say this all the time, you don’t get that stat running a 2-3 and playing hope-you-miss defense,” Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. “I’m proud of our kids for how hard they played and for making it happen.”
Mississippi State caught a break in its fifth straight win — Tennessee’s top scorer, Rennia Davis, was out with the flu. Davis averages 18.1 points per game to rank second in the SEC. Sophomore guard Rae Burrell made her first start of the season in Davis’ place and collected 20 points and 10 rebounds.
The Lady Vols (17-6, 7-3) have committed 120 turnovers over their last six games. Tennessee led 21-19 after committing just three turnovers in the first quarter, but the Lady Vols had a combined 20 turnovers and 12 baskets the rest of the way.
“It’s all on us,” said Tennessee guard Jazmine Massengill, who scored 11 points. “Just mental breakdowns, mental mistakes.”
Mississippi State has won seven of its last eight meetings with Tennessee. Before this eight-game stretch, Tennessee had won all 36 matchups in this series.
With this latest victory, Mississippi State became the first SEC program to beat the Lady Vols in Knoxville three straight times.
“It’s still hard to win here, y’all,” Schaefer said. “It doesn’t get any easier. There’s still great players on that other bench. There’s still All-Americans down there.”
Rickea Jackson scored 14 points, Chloe Bibby had 13 and Jordan Danberry and Yemiyah Morris each added 11 for Mississippi State. Jordan Horston scored 12 points for Tennessee.
After Tennessee played so efficiently in the first quarter, Mississippi State ended up forcing 14 steals.
“When we first came out in the first quarter, we weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be on defense,” Mississippi State guard Myah Taylor said. “I feel like it picked up as the game went on. We need to start out the game like we ended it, which is playing with heart on defense, denying the ball, getting in passing lanes and just being aggressive on defense.
“I just feel like if we start out that way — start off aggressive — this team can go really far.”
Mississippi State: The Bulldogs won on a night when they didn’t get complete performances from their three leading scorers this season: Jackson, Danberry and Jessika Carter. Jackson, who had been shooting 51.3% in conference play this season, went 5 of 18. Danberry was scoreless in the first half and foul trouble limited Carter to 16 minutes.
Tennessee: After racing to a 15-3 start this season, the Lady Vols have lost three of their last five games as their schedule has strengthened. Tennessee’s three losses during that stretch came against three of the top eight teams in the Top 25: No. 3 Connecticut, No. 1 South Carolina and Mississippi State. The Lady Vols should benefit from having a week off before returning to action Thursday.
Tennessee wore T-shirts honoring Kobe Bryant during pregame warmups. The black shirts featured an illustration of the former Los Angeles Lakers star that was designed by Tennessee men’s basketball player Jalen Johnson.
Johnson’s illustration appeared on the Thompson-Boling Arena video board as a moment of silence was held in honor of Bryant, who was killed along with his 13-year-old daughter and seven others in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash.
Mississippi State hosts No. 16 Texas A&M on Sunday.
Tennessee hosts LSU on Thursday.