Vols

Brianna Paciorka/Knoxville News Sentinel

On a night that started with joyous tears and ended with thunderous applause, Senior Night for the No. 5 Tennessee Volunteers had all the emotional appeal that any Vol fan would have expected it to have. Seniors Admiral Schofield, Kyle Alexander, Brad Woodson, and Lucas Campbell received the praise they deserved from Vol faithful all game long after helping build the program into exactly what it is today.

Even with all the festivities, the Vols still had a game to play against a Mississippi State team that had once been ranked No. 14 in the country.

The first half of the game was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams trading punches left and right. Both the Vols and the Bulldogs went on big runs during the half, but Tennessee headed into halftime up 31-25. The Vols would soon find their footing in the second half, going on a tear and outscoring the Bulldogs 40-29 over the final 20 minutes to win 71-54 behind big nights from Schofield, Grant Williams, and Jordan Bowden.

 

The big story of the game leading into the SEC and NCAA Tournaments is the Vols continued development of their defensive play the last two games. Tennessee held Mississippi State to just 33.3 percent from the field and 25 percent from beyond the arc, just three days after holding No. 4 Kentucky to just 31.7 percent and 26.3 percent from the field and from three, respectively. The Vols are playing lock-down defense, both inside and outside of the paint, which is an area that has received criticism the last few weeks. But for now, things are clicking, and especially at the right time.

Even during slight scoring droughts from some of its best players over the last few weeks, Tennessee has regained its offensive swagger heading into the final game of the regular season. Combine this with the new shutdown defense as of late, and the Vols seem to be picking back up the electric momentum they had mid-season.

Poetically enough, it was Schofield who carried the team on Tuesday with 18 points after shooting 53.8 percent from the field and 75 percent from deep. The story couldn’t have been written any better, as Schofield was able to lead the team to victory one last time in his final game at TBA. Not enough good words can be said about what this senior class, headlined by Schofield and Alexander, and how deeply they will be missed as they head on to fulfill their NBA dreams. But for one last run in the tournament, we will all be on the edge of our seats, cheering on our faithful senior class.

With Tennessee’s key players stepping back into their dominant offensive roles, and the team defense elevating their game at the most important time, the Vols are confirming what we have known all season regardless of the bumps in the road: come tournament time, this is a scary team that no one should want to face.

The No. 5 Volunteers travel to Auburn this Saturday to take on Bruce Pearl’s Tigers on ESPN at noon to end the regular season, before turning their attention to the SEC and the NCAA Tournaments later this month.

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