Knoxville, TN – Mercedes Russell  recorded 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting, but No. 6/7 Tennessee was unable to overcome a 13-point halftime deficit in a 71-52 loss to No. 3/3 Mississippi State on Sunday at Thompson-Boling Arena.
Jaime Nared  added 12 points for the Lady Vols (16-3, 4-2 SEC), who now have dropped three of their last four. Victoria Vivians led the Bulldogs (20-0, 6-0 SEC) with 24 points and nine rebounds, while Teaira McCowan recorded 12 points and 18 boards.
After Anastasia Hayes  made it a seven-point game with a free throw early in the fourth quarter, MSU was able to shut down UT offensively, allowing no field goals over the final eight minutes while closing the game on a 14-2 run.
Russell was active early on for the Lady Vols, scoring six of the team’s first eight points. While much of the first quarter was highlighted by a fast pace and five lead changes, the Bulldogs began to chip away in the closing minutes, going on an 11-4 run to take a seven-point advantage heading into the second stanza. Vivians led MSU with nine points in the period.
The Bulldogs’ defense continued to stymie UT in the second quarter, holding the Lady Vols to just 12 points on six shots. MSU dominated the offensive glass throughout the first half, hauling in nine offensive rebounds that led to 14 points off second chance opportunities. With under three minutes remaining, a Roshunda Johnson layup put the Bulldogs ahead by double digits for the first time of the afternoon. Russell continued her strong offensive play for UT, finishing the half with 12 points as the Lady Vols went into the break trailing, 39-26.
Tennessee started to regain momentum on both ends of the floor in the third quarter. After holding the Bulldogs scoreless over a two-minute stretch, a layup by Rennia Davis  trimmed the deficit back to 10. With time winding down, Evina Westbrook  worked her way into the lane and sunk a mid-range jump shot to bring UT to within nine going into the game’s final quarter.
The Lady Vols cut the lead to seven, 57-50, with 7:19 to go in the contest, but they were met with more offensive struggles the rest of the game and recorded a season-low eight points on 2-for-14 shooting during the period. MSU, meanwhile, shot 47 percent from the floor, and was able to pull away down the stretch thanks to a Tennessee scoring drought that lasted 3:44.
Davis grabbed 10 rebounds in addition to scoring seven points in the losing effort. Johnson netted 16 for MSU, while Blair Schaefer added four 3-pointers for 12 points.
We Back Pat
Sunday’s game marked UT’s seventh annual observance of We Back Pat Week, a conference-wide initiative dedicated to remembering legendary Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt and bringing awareness to the Pat Summitt Foundation. Before the game the following organizations presented donations to the Pat Summitt Foundation:
– Taste of Turkey Creek ($14,000)
– Forget Me Not 5K ($15,000)
– Salute For The Cure ($60,000)
– Race For The Summitt ($3,600)
– Alzheimer’s Pansy Project ($14,000)
Additionally, the Pat Summitt Foundation presented a check for $500,000 to the Pat Summitt Clinic at the University of Tennessee Medical Center.
Russell From The Floor
Mercedes Russell  showed off her range against Mississippi State, scoring 10 of her 16 points off jumpers. In the first half, she was a perfect 6-of-6 from the floor, and she finished the game 7-of-9. Over the last three games Russell has a field goal percentage of .760.
Taking Better Care Of The Basketball
Mississippi State has forced, on average, 20.7 turnovers during SEC play this season. Tennessee committed just 13 on the afternoon and only four in the second half.
Up Next For UT Women’s Basketball
Tennessee plays at home for the second straight game, as Ole Miss (11-8, 1-5 SEC) comes to Thompson-Boling Arena on Thursday night, January 25th. The contest tips at 6:00pm CT and will be broadcast online via SECN+ (WatchESPN).