Vols secure ‘character win’ over Mississippi State
A strong finish in Starkville put Tennessee back in the win column after defeating Mississippi State, 70-59.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - A strong finish in Starkville put Tennessee back in the win column after defeating Mississippi State 70-59.
Tennessee played without offensive weapons in Tyreke Key (illness) and Santiago Vescovi (shoulder injury) Tuesday night, so the Vols sported a starting lineup that’s never practiced together, according to head coach Rick Barnes.
Despite the lack of practice with this rotation, once they settled in, they took off.
Sophomore Zakai Zeigler and freshman forward Julian Phillips would combine for 42 of Tennessee’s 70 points and would end the night with several career highs.
Making his first start since November, Zeigler posted a career-high 24 points, 16 of which came in the second half, along with a career-high-tying six rebounds and four assists in a career-high 40 minutes.
Zakai Zeigler still finished with fresh legs at the end. “I could go play again right now. That was a win that showed a lot of character because a lot of teams would still maybe let that last game dwell on them. And we didn’t do that. We were just ourselves. Despite having our two starters down, two of our main players, we went out there and showed that we can still do it,” Zeigler said.
Head Coach Rick Barned added, “After the 8-minute mark I thought Zakai really settled down and really played terrific basketball to go 40 minutes the way he did and he got aggressive and the way we ended the first half was huge.”
Phillips authored his highest-scoring SEC game as a Vol and second-career double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, also coming on strong after halftime with 13 second-half points.
Phillips took note of the spark Zakai provided this team, especially in the second half.
“Big, you know, and everybody contributed and when he’s playing at his highest like that and confident it makes the team a lot better,” said Phillips.
Barnes mentioned the importance of capturing an SEC road win after a disappointing loss to Kentucky.
“We’re the team we say we are, we’re the program we say we are, this is going to be a character game and we’re going to see if we can answer the bell. Because we know the respect that we have for Mississippi State that they were going to bring it, and they came hard. It was really a big win for us,” said Barnes.
Tennessee is back on the road in just four days at LSU on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. CT on ESPN
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