March 6, 2010
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- Mississippi State played video highlights of last year's Southeastern Conference tournament championship victory over Tennessee before and during Saturday's rematch.
Meant to fire up the Bulldogs and the crowd, the clips had the opposite effect. No. 16 Tennessee held Mississippi State without a point for the first 6 minutes and pushed the Bulldogs around in a 75-59 win to end the regular season on a three-game win streak.
"Honestly I didn't think about it till they showed it," Tennessee's J.P. Prince said. "So I guess it's kind of their fault."
Prince, it turns out, was one of the few Volunteers coming in who wasn't thinking about how the Bulldogs upset them 64-61 to win the title.
That left Tennessee reeling -- they lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament the next week -- and several Volunteers couldn't wait to get to Starkville, a place most opponents would rather not visit.
"It was not just a little about payback, it was a lot about payback," guard Bobby Maze said. "We were sitting over there watching them celebrate and we feel like we should have won the championship. It was tough watching them putting on their T-shirts and putting on their hats, and we're sitting over there on our side teary-eyed. That was hard."
The Volunteers (23-7, 11-5 Southeastern Conference) are determined the same fate won't hit them this year and are proving it on the court, winning five of their last six. Coach Bruce Pearl thinks they're playing their best ball of the season and they proved it by embarrassing the Bulldogs (21-10, 9-7) in a game meant to be a celebration of the careers of seniors Jarvis Varnado and Barry Stewart.
Chism, however, had to be restrained by an assistant coach after the game following a verbal confrontation with Mississippi State players.
The loss forced the Bulldogs to share the SEC West title with rival Mississippi, a team they beat twice this season. Mississippi State will open the SEC tournament as the West's No. 1 seed, while Tennessee is No. 3 in the East.
Tennessee blitzed Mississippi State from the start, hitting eight of its first 11 shots, including five layups and a dunk.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs opened 0 of 5 from the field and didn't make their first basket until Phil Turner's layup with 6:10 gone. That stretch included four steals by the Volunteers.
"It was absolutely about the worst 5 minutes you could ever imagine as a coach," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said.
It was a curious start for Mississippi State, which needed a quality win in its pursuit of an NCAA tournament bid.
"I really like Rick and his staff," Pearl said. "We take no pleasure at all in denying them a quality win. But this was a big win for us. We needed this win for seeding purposes. Coming down here and getting a win could move us up a whole line."
The Bulldogs were 6 of 25 (24 percent) in the first half and trailed by 17 three times, including 38-21 at halftime after Cameron Tatum's layup at the buzzer -- the ninth layup of the first 20 minutes. It was the lowest first-half total of the season for the Bulldogs.
Prince, who led the Vols with 16 points, opened the game with a 3-pointer, then Scotty Hopson began the parade in the paint. Hopson, who made a verbal commitment to the Bulldogs before signing with Tennessee, was booed each time he touched the ball -- and loved it.
Hopson, who finished with 14 points, fearlessly drove past Varnado for a layup, then dropped his shoulder to bull past Stewart for a 7-0 lead. He dropped in his third layup of the opening run to make it 17-0 at 14:23.
Hopson also stopped Mississippi State short when the Bulldogs got off to a quick start in the second half with eight quick points to push the lead back to 48-32 with 15:55 left.
"It kind of got me fired up," Hopson said of the hostile reception. "Definitely them booing me, I just wanted to get back at them and score buckets for my team."
Chism struggled and finished with one point after missing four shots. He appeared to get into a verbal spat shortly after the game with Mississippi State freshman Renardo Sidney, who hasn't played this season due to an NCAA investigation but sits on the bench at home.
Chism was not immediately available for comment and a team spokesman said he would not address the altercation. Neither coach saw what started the back and forth.
"Got to move on," Stansbury said. "They can do all the talking they want. They won."