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Bulldogs men’s basketball falls short at No. 18 Tennessee

MSU falls to 9-8.

NCAA Basketball: Mississippi State at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The Mississippi State men’s basketball team was held to a total of three field goals in the final 11:24 of Tuesday’s 56-53 road loss to No. 18 Tennessee at Thompson-Boling Arena.

Mississippi State (9-8, 4-5 SEC) shot 17-for-52 (32.7%) from the field and held Tennessee (11-3, 5-3 SEC) to 20-for-54 (37.0%) shooting. The squads combined for 6 of 32 from 3-point range. The Bulldogs made 3 of 13 and the Volunteers made 3 of 19.

The Volunteers forced the Bulldogs into 18 turnovers, earning a plus-7 turnover margin for the game.

MSU sophomore guard Iverson Molinar finished with 16 points and redshirt sophomore guard D.J. Stewart Jr. added 11. The duo combined for 25 of MSU’s 52 shot attempts.

Tennessee was led by senior forward Yves Pons with 13 points. Freshman guard Jaden Springer, who had not played in the past two games due to an ankle injury, returned and finished with nine points, five assists and four rebounds.

The Volunteers jumped out to a 15-4 lead with 13:04 left in the first stanza. The Bulldogs then stormed back with a 16-5 run to knot things up at 20-20 with 5:19 left.

Tennessee scored the next six points to take a 26-20 lead before Stewart hit a jumper and redshirt senior forward Abdul Ado made a free throw to make it 26-23 at the halftime break.

Molinar opened the second half with a triple to tie things up. A pair of free throws by Stewart then gave MSU a 28-26 lead.

A breakaway dunk by Pons brought the Volunteers within one point at 41-40 with 10:36 left in the game. The Bulldogs extended their lead to 44-40 before Tennessee used a 6-0 spurt to take a 46-44 lead with 5:52 left.

With MSU down three at 52-49, redshirt sophomore forward Tolu Smith was called for a charge. The Volunteers capitalized by knocking down both free throws to take a 54-49 lead with 1:16 to play.

Molinar made a layup with two seconds left to make it 56-53, but that’s as close as the Bulldogs would get, and the Volunteers held on for the win.

MSU returns to action Saturday when it hosts Iowa State in the SEC/Big 12 challenge. Tip time is slated for 5 p.m. CT.