Zeigler leads No. 9 Tennessee over Mississippi State 70-59

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STARKVILLE, Miss. – Following a loss at home against Kentucky and having starters Santiago Vescovi and Tyreke Key out, No. 9 Tennessee was on upset alert at Mississippi State on Tuesday.

The Bulldogs proved that in the first 15 minutes of the game, running up a nine-point lead, but the Volunteers settled into the game. After tying at 23 at the half, Tennessee went 8 of 9 from 3-point range in the second half and scored 47 points in the final 20 minutes to win 70-59 on the road.

“That’s a great team character win for our team. The fact that we had two starters out and started the game with a lineup that I probably never practiced together,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “I thought after the eight minutes mark, Zakai Zeigler really settled down and played terrific, playing 40 minutes the way that he did. Our team had great respect for Mississippi State because other than that game at our place when we could have beaten anybody in the country, (Mississippi State) has been in every game.”

The Vols (15-3, 5-1 SEC) shot 2 of 15 from 3-point range in the first half as the Bulldogs clamped down on Tennessee but it was a different story in the final 20 minutes. Zeigler had 14 points in the second half and Tennessee doubled its production from the first half.

Mississippi St. (12-6, 1-5) improved on its first half total as well. The pace played out of the Bulldogs’ realm, however, as the defense-minded Mississippi St. couldn’t keep up with the hot-shooting Vols.

Tennessee’s Julian Phillips had 18 points and 11 rebounds while Josiah-Jordan James finished with 13. Tennessee shot 23 of 51 (45%) from the field in the game with a 42% 3-point night. The Vols were also big from the line, making 14 of 15.

After turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, the Vols finished with 17 turnovers for the game.

“I just tried to be more aggressive, find my shots and rebound the ball better,” Phillips said. “We didn’t have (Vescovi or Key) two of our leading scorers, so we were missing some points there. It was next man up.”

Mississippi St. shot 19 of 57 from the field as offensive struggles continue. The Bulldogs made 7 of 26 from 3-point range and had 14 of 22 from the free-throw line.

Shakeel Moore scored a career-high 20 points for the Bulldogs, making all eight of his free-throw attempts, and Tolu Smith had 11 points and 10 rebounds.

Tennessee won the rebounding battle 39-31.

“We’re a good basketball team. If we stick together and stay the course, we’ll have opportunities to win games in the league this year,” Mississippi State coach Chris Jans said. “It’s a big challenge that we all face. It starts with me and my staff to set the mood and the vibe, stay hungry, continue to work and believe. That will be the big focus for us heading into the Florida game.”

BIG PICTURE

Tennessee: After a rough loss to Kentucky at home last week, the Vols needed a bounce back. It wasn’t easy, but the second-half answer spoke volumes, overcoming a nine-point deficit.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs continue to slide having lost six of the last seven games, but that isn’t the full story. Mississippi St. continues to make progress in year one under Jans.

UP NEXT

Tennessee travels to LSU on Saturday.

Mississippi State hosts Florida on Saturday night.

Jans: Mississippi State hoops will have swagger, confidence

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STARKVILLE, Miss. – Chris Jans leaned down to pick up a cowbell and rang it during his introduction as Mississippi State’s next men’s basketball coach. It’s an MSU sports tradition he acknowledged struggling with upon getting off the plane.

He plans to get better at it by ringing up more wins with the Bulldogs.

Jans was introduced Wednesday and vowed his program will play with confidence and swagger. While that depends on which players stay, who arrives via the transfer portal and recruiting, he’s intent on transforming MSU from its current state of mediocrity and into a NCAA Tournament regular.

“This is a dream opportunity for me,” said Jans, who was hired on Sunday, a day after guiding New Mexico State to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. “I’ve been coaching for 30 years and when I started this odyssey, I wanted to be in a place like Mississippi State.

“I didn’t dream of being at Mississippi State. I didn’t really have a dream job. I just wanted to be somewhere where it was important and we were on the biggest stage, we’re competing with and against the best players in college basketball and the best coaches in college basketball. And obviously in the SEC and at Mississippi State, we’re going to get the opportunity to do that.”

Jans, 52, led the 12th-seeded Aggies to a first-round upset of No. 5 Connecticut before falling to No. 4 Arkansas, a team he’ll see often in the Southeastern Conference. He brings in a career head coaching record of 143-44 including 122-32 in five seasons at NMSU with three Western Athletic Conference Tournament championships.

His .765 winning percentage ranks fourth among active head coaches, behind Gonzaga’s Mark Few (.837), Kansas’ Bill Self (.768) and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (.766).

MSU’s 2019 NCAA appearance was the only one in seven seasons under veteran Ben Howland, who departed last week. The Bulldogs were 134-98 during his tenure with three NIT berths the past four years including this season. But since a fourth-place SEC finish in the 2019-20 season halted before the tournament by the coronavirus outbreak, they never got above ninth and finished 18-16 in 10th this season.

Athletic director John Cohen said tremendous interest in the job made it important to move quickly to find Howland’s replacement. Jans checked off all the qualities he sought, his impressive record being the most obvious.

“Coach Jans is a proven leader and a proven winner,” Cohen said. “He’s considered by many industry experts to be one of the elite coaches in the entire country. His overall resume really speaks for itself.”

Jans met with half of his roster earlier this week before severe weather postponed a meeting with other players. The Fairbank, Iowa, native didn’t promise a style, but the Aggies’ ability to hold Arkansas’ high-octane offense to season lows in scoring and shooting (28%) in the 53-48 West Region loss suggests his teams won’t be awed.

“We’re never going to step on the floor without a chip on our shoulder,” he added, “and we’re never going to look down at the other bench or the other half of the court as we’re warming up and fear anybody.”

Jans’ arrival follows MSU’s March 12 hiring of longtime Louisville assistant Sam Purcell as women’s basketball coach. He will take over the program when the top-seeded Cardinals are finished in the women’s NCAA Tournament.

No. 5 Auburn holds off Mississippi State 81-68 in overtime

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STARKVILLE, Miss. — K.D. Johnson scored 12 of his 14 points in overtime, Jabari Smith had 27 points overall and No. 5 Auburn held off Mississippi State 81-68 in overtime Wednesday night.

With the win, the Tigers (26-4, 14-3 Southeastern Conference) clinched at least a share of the SEC regular-season championship. It marks the fourth SEC title for Auburn and the program’s first since the 2017-18 season.

“It means so much to us because this league is so good,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “You know, there are about seven or eight teams that could have won this thing. The fact that Auburn put itself in this position is just incredible.”

Smith tied the game at 61 in the final minute of regulation, but missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. But Johnson scored the first 10 points of overtime to help the Tigers pull away.

Smith also finished with 10 rebounds for the Tigers and was 9 of 13 from the field. Zep Jasper also added 11 points for Auburn and was 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

“(Smith) is one of the great competitors I’ve ever coached,” Pearl said. “You could look at his jump shot and you can look at all the other things about him. But that is one competitive talent. He wants the ball, he’s not afraid of the moment and I’m gonna just trust him.”

Tolu Smith had 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Iverson Molinar had 14 points and five assists for Mississippi State (17-13, 8-9).

The Bulldogs missed all 13 attempts from 3-point range while Auburn was 10 of 26 behind the arc. Mississippi State did outrebound the Tigers 50-32, including 21 offensive rebounds. Andersson Garcia finished with a career-best 13 rebounds for the Bulldogs and added eight points.

“It was a tough loss and we’ve said that too many times this year,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. “We outboarded them by 18, but we had too many turnovers (20). I blame myself for the looks we didn’t get down the stretch.

“Obviously, our 3-point shooting is impacting us. We are now 1 of 33 in the last three games. It is disappointing. It is frustrating for everyone.”

Auburn jumped on Mississippi State right out of the gate and did most of the damage from 3-point range. Jasper made his third 3-pointer of the half with 10:33 remaining and gave the Tigers a 23-10 advantage.

The Tigers led by as many as 19 in the first half and led 40-28 at halftime.

Auburn shot 7 of 14 from 3-point range in the first half and had 12 first-half assists. The Tigers shot 56% overall in the first half, but were outrebounded 20-16.

Mississippi State shot just 39% in the opening half and missed all nine attempts behind the 3-point arc.

However, Mississippi State used a 32-10 run that spanned over two halves and took a 54-49 lead with 7:20 left in regulation. The Bulldogs also had a chance to win late in regulation, but failed to score on their last two offensive possessions.

BIG PICTURE

Auburn: The Tigers snapped a three-game road losing streak in the SEC and did so at the perfect time. Auburn finished with a 7-3 road record in the league.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs’ shooting woes from 3-point territory continued. Against Auburn, the Bulldogs were 0 of 13 beyond the arc and over the past three games, Mississippi State is just 1 of 33 from 3-point range in that stretch.

UP NEXT

Auburn: Closes the regular season on Saturday and will host South Carolina.

Mississippi State: Concludes the regular season Saturday at Texas A&M.

Memphis wins NIT title with 77-64 win over Mississippi State

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FRISCO, Texas — Memphis has its first title with Penny Hardaway as coach, and these young Tigers could be set up for more.

Boogie Ellis scored 23 points and Memphis never trailed after a fast start to beat Mississippi State 77-64 in the NIT championship game Sunday, wrapping up Hardaway’s third season coaching his alma mater after the Tigers just missed out on their first NCAA Tournament since 2013-14.

“We want to win championships, and the NIT is just a start,” Hardaway said.

With no seniors on the roster, the Tigers won 11 of their last 13 games. The only setbacks in that span were a pair of one-possession losses six days apart against NCAA Elite Eight team Houston.

“If this group wants to stay together, we’ll be really dangerous. We’ll be very dangerous because now we know the system,” Hardaway said. “The guys for the first time this year, they know how I coach, they know what I’m expecting, they know what the culture is, and they know what we have to buy into for us to be champions next year at the next level.”

Landers Nolley II opened the second half with a jumper and a 3-pointer that put the Tigers (20-8) ahead to stay to stay while winning college basketball’s oldest tournament for the second time – they also were NIT champs in 2002. Nolley was one of three sophomore starters for the Tigers, who also had a freshman and junior among the starting five.

“We had a goal of cutting the nets down in the NCAA Tournament, but I do feel like we should’ve been there,” sophomore guard Lester Quinones said. “But I feel like this was kind of a message to just show them that we kind of deserved to be there.”

Their 2002 NIT title was the spark for a strong NCAA tourney run for the Tigers under John Calipari. Memphis made six of the next seven NCAAs, losing in overtime to Kansas in the 2008 championship game.

Memphis led the NIT finale 13-0 in less than 7 1/2 minutes before missing 11 shots in a row and 21 of 26 before halftime. Mississippi State (18-15) tied the game at 33-all when Andersson Garcia had a steal at midcourt and drove for a layup to beat the halftime buzzer.

The Tigers then shot 67% after halftime (16 of 24) and struck first with Nolley’s baskets. The Tigers made 6 of 8 3s after the break, with Ellis hitting consecutive long-range shots early on.

D.J. Jeffries had 15 points for the Tigers, while DeAndre Williams had 12 points. Quinones had eight points with 16 rebounds and did a tremendous defensive job against Bulldogs guard DJ Stewart, who was held to four points after averaging 21.7 the first three NIT games.

Cameron Matthews paced Mississippi State with 19 points, while Deivon Smith had 17. Abdul Ado had eight points and 11 rebounds.

The Bulldogs missed their first 10 shots before Smith’s 3-pointer with 12:42 left in the first half made it 13-3. Garcia’s half-ending play was part of a 10-2 run in the final two minutes, but Mississippi State had a turnover and missed two inside shots to open the second half.

“I wanted us to get off to a good start because of how poor we started off the first and that really didn’t happen,” Bulldogs coach Ben Howland said. “We struggled to score again to start the second half and we struggled to get stops. And that allowed them to break open and get a six, eight-point lead on us.”

AWAY FROM THE BIG APPLE

After the first-ever NIT cancellation last year because of COVID-19, this year’s tournament was reduced from 32 to 16 teams and played entirely in North Texas, more than 1,500 miles from its usual home of New York City. The semifinals and championship game were played outside of Madison Square Garden for the first time in the 83-year history of the event.

STYMIED BULLDOG GUARDS

After being the first Mississippi State player with three consecutive 20-point postseason games, Stewart was 1-of-10 shooting, and 0-for-5 on 3s. Iverson Molinar, who had 25 points in the semifinal win over Louisiana Tech, finished with six points on 2-of-7 shooting for Memphis.

“We’re not gonna win many games when DJ and Iverson are only 3 of 17,” Howland said.

CLOSE CALLS

The last four Memphis losses were by a combined eight points. Sixth-ranked Houston hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at home to beat the Tigers 67-64 in the regular-season finale, before winning 76-74 in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals.

Mississippi State in NIT final after 84-62 win over Louisiana Tech

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FRISCO, Texas – D.J. Stewart Jr. got off to such a fast start that Mississippi State didn’t need another last-second shot to get to the NIT championship game.

Iverson Molinar scored 25 points and Stewart had 23, with the guards combining for nine 3-pointers, as Mississippi State led throughout to beat Louisiana Tech 84-62 on Saturday in a semifinal.

Two days after hitting the game-winning 3 in the closing seconds of the quarterfinal round to beat Richmond, Stewart made his first five shots, including all four of his made 3s in the game matching No. 4-seeded Bulldogs.

“That really gave us a lift, gave our guys a lot of confidence,” coach Ben Howland said.

Mississippi State (18-14) scored the game’s first 11 points. Molinar, who finished with five 3s, hit from long range on the Bulldogs’ first shot before Stewart had a run of 14 consecutive points for an early 17-5 lead.

“It kind of got us in a lead … the way the game was going, it gave us momentum,” Molinar said.

Big freshman Kenneth Lofton Jr. had 20 points and 10 rebounds for Louisiana Tech (23-8), which opened the NIT with a win over another Southeastern Conference team, No. 1 seed Ole Miss. Kalob Ledoux had 11 points and Jacolby Pemberton 10.

“We played a very good team in Mississippi State today, and that very good team played extremely well,” Louisiana Tech coach Eric Konkol said. “We were playing from behind from the very beginning. I thought our team exerted a lot of effort to try to get back in.”

Derek Fountain added 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting for Mississippi State, which plays Memphis on Sunday in its first NIT title game. Louisiana Tech was in its first NIT semifinal since 1986, and has never gotten further.

Stewart picked up where he left off after pushing Mississippi State over Richmond 68-67, when his game-winning 3 was the last of 16 lead changes in a game that also included eight ties.

Isaiah Crawford made a layup for Louisiana Tech to cut the gap to 41-31. Mississippi State responded with a 13-3 run when Stewart had a layup and Molinar scored 11 points, including three consecutive 3s that made it 54-34 with 13:48 to play. Molinar scored 20 of his points after halftime, after Stewart had 19 in the first half.

“I feel like it’s just whoever has the hot hand, and getting them the ball,” Molinar said. “Just the flow of the game, I kind of let the game come to me, I don’t feel like I forced stuff. … When I got it going, I got it going.”

BREAKING 70

Mississippi State became the first team to score at least 70 points against Louisiana Tech since Jan. 22. Tech had set a school record by holding 14 consecutive opponents under 70 points since an 82-74 loss at UTEP.

UP NEXT

Mississippi State takes on No. 1 seed Memphis on Sunday in the first NIT championship game played outside New York City. Louisiana Tech plays a consolation game against Colorado State, which lost 90-67 to the Tigers in the other semifinal Saturday.

Landers Nolley scores 27 points, Memphis makes 14 3s in win vs. Colorado State in NIT semis

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FRISCO, Texas — Memphis is playing for a championship in Penny Hardaway’s third season coaching his alma mater.

Landers Nolley II scored a career-high 27 points with seven of the Tigers’ season-high 14 made 3-pointers, and they advanced to their first NIT championship game since winning the title in 2002 with a 90-67 semifinal win over Colorado State on Saturday.

“I’m proud of the team. Our most complete game all year was today, even though we started off kind of slow, still scored 90 points,” Hardaway said. “For multiple guys to get hot on the same night, I’ve been asking for that all year and today’s game was one of those games.”

Memphis will hope for one more of those on Sunday, when it faces Mississippi State in the title game.

Nolley scored 24 of his points after halftime, after Lester Quinones made three 3s in a 22-2 run in the first half that put the Tigers (19-8) ahead to stay. DeAndre Williams finished with 21 points for Memphis, and Quinones had 18 with four 3s.

David Roddy had 18 points and Isaiah Stevens 17 for Colorado State (20-7).

Memphis’ last NCAA Tournament was 2013-14, and the Tigers just missed this year. They are 10-2 since the start of February with a pair one-possession losses six days apart against NCAA Sweet 16 team Houston. Their last four losses have been by a combined eight points.

Sixth-ranked Houston won 76-74 in the American Athletic Conference tournament semifinals, five days after hitting a last-second 3 at home to beat the Tigers 67-64 in the regular-season finale.

The Tigers were instead a No. 1 seed in the NIT, which was reduced from its usual 32 to 16 teams and is being played in North Texas because of the coronavirus pandemic that led to the event’s cancellation last year. It is the first time the final NIT games are being played outside of New York City.

Hardaway says it takes a lot keep his team from getting distracted during a game, but that he doesn’t expect any lack of motivation Sunday.

“I don’t think so because it’s for the championship,” Hardaway said. “We’re playing good basketball. We know who we are.”

After Roddy started the second half with a 3 to get Colorado State within three points, Memphis responded with a 16-3 run that included seven points from Nolley.

Memphis’ big run before halftime came while the Rams missed 10 consecutive shots over a stretch of more than six minutes. After the 3s by Quinones, the Tigers led 37-23 on a jumper by Damion Baugh with 3:40 left. They shot 56% overall (34 of 61) and 52% on 3s (14 of 27).

“We let their shooters have too many rhythm 3s,” Colorado State coach Niko Medved said.

The Rams led 21-15 on a jumper by Stevens midway through the first half, and his 3 in the final minute cut the halftime deficit to 44-38. But they had several shooting droughts, and were 39% overall (20 of 52) against the Memphis pressure defense.

“They are so unique in what they do,” Medved said. “It’s not anything we were not ready for, or surprised by. We just didn’t execute the way we needed to.”

STATE OF WINNING

The Tigers wore jerseys that read “Memphis State” that they got just before the AAC tourney. That was the name of the school when Hardaway was a standout player in the early 1990s – the school formally changed to University of Memphis in 1994.

“I’m very superstitious. So we’re winning with them, why are we going to get out of them? It’s no disrespect to the University of Memphis or anything. Still the same thing to me,” Hardaway said. “And we’re wearing those because we’re winning in them.”

UP NEXT

The NIT championship game, more than 1,500 miles from Madison Square Garden, with the Tigers facing the fourth-seeded Bulldogs on Sunday. Colorado State plays in the consolation game against Louisiana Tech, which lost 84-62 in the other semifinal game.