STARKVILLE, Mississippi — Tennessee men's basketball shook off an ugly start against Mississippi State on Tuesday night and won 70-59 on the road.
The ninth-ranked Vols were without starting guards Tyreke Key and Santiago Vesocvi due to sickness and a shoulder injury, respectively.
UT had a lot of struggles finding an offensive rhythm early in this game. UT scored their 10th point at the 11:19 mark in the first half, but then went 6:16 without scoring a basket. They got down 19-10 at one point.
From that point, UT outscored the Bulldogs 13-4 to close out the half, with 10 of those points coming in the final 3:03. They somehow managed to tie the game at 23-23 at halftime despite 11 first-half turnovers, shooting 32% overall and about 13% from three-point range.
Zakai Zeigler had five turnovers in the first half but played well in those final 3:03 of the first half. He scored 6 points, dished an assist and had no turnovers.
The Bulldogs shot just under 31% from the floor and blew the early lead.
The Vols and Bulldogs shot the ball well to start the second half, but UT was even better. Tennessee went 4 of 4 from three-point range in the first seven minutes of the half and found themselves leading 41-37 because of it. Zeigler made two of them.
Mississippi State gained some momentum quickly though, as a three-pointer from Dashawn Davis capped a 7-1 run that gave the Bulldogs a 55-52 lead with 11:25 to go in the second half.
Julian Phillips got the Vols back out in front. He tied the game at 44-44 with two free throws, again at 46-46 with an outback dunk, gave the Vols a two-point lead with two more free throws and then a 50-46 lead with a layup.
With Tennessee up 50-49, Zeigler hit a three-pointer and then made a layup to put UT up 55-49 for their largest lead of the game at the time.
The Vols' three-point shooting was as good as it gets in the second half, making eight of nine from deep. Olivier Nkamhoua made the last of those 8 to give the Vols a 64-55 lead.
Zeigler finished with a career-high 24 points and played all 40 minutes He r had his fifth turnover by 8:11 in the first half, then didn't have one the rest of the game. Phillips finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
Tennessee plays LSU on the road next on Saturday at 4 p.m.