Admiral Schofield scored 20 points and No. 8 Tennessee defeated Mississippi State 83-76 in a Southeastern Conference tournament quarterfinal on Friday night. The third-seeded Vols (28-4) advanced to a Saturday semifinal with No. 4 Kentucky (27-5), the second seed in this tournament.
Tennessee lost 86-69 at Kentucky on Feb. 16 to end a school-record 19-game winning streak but trounced the Wildcats 71-52 at home two weeks later.
“Now we’re pretty much on neutral ground where you’ve got two fan bases that really love their teams,” Schofield said. “You’ve got two teams that are very talented fighting for a championship, an SEC championship. It’s going to be a great game, I’m pretty sure.”
The semifinal pairing represents a rematch of last year’s SEC championship, which Kentucky won 77-72 to capture its fourth straight tourney title. The other semifinal matches No. 22 Auburn (24-9) against Florida (19-14).
“This is a big-time rivalry for us,” Schofield said. “I don’t know about them. We sense they don’t respect us as much, but we’re starting to get our respect back from that side. But at the same time we’ve got to go out and compete.”
Kyle Alexander and Grant Williams each scored 16 points to help Tennessee reach the semifinals. Jordan Bone had 14 points and nine assists with only one turnover, and Jordan Bowden added 10 points.
Aric Holman scored 20 and Quinndary Weatherspoon had 17 for Mississippi State (23-10). Reggie Perry had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and Lamar Peters also scored 15 points.
The Bulldogs rallied from a 34-28 halftime deficit to tie the game at 38 on a Lamar Peters basket with 17:14 left. Tennessee went ahead for good with 14:17 remaining when Bone hit a tiebreaking 3- pointer as the shot clock was running down.
“I kind of just shot it with confidence,” Bone said. “I knew I had to get it up.”
The game remained close until Tennessee went on a 10-0 run to extend its lead to 59-46 with 9:33 left when Schofield started to take over.
Tennessee led 53-46 when Schofield drove to the basket, scored and drew a foul with 10:53 remaining. Up to that point, Tennessee hadn’t attempted a free throw.
Less than a minute later, Schofield threw down a one-handed dunk while getting fouled again. Schofield missed the free throw and three-point play opportunity after both baskets, but his big plays put the Vols in control and delighted a pro-Tennessee crowd.
Schofield added a 3-point basket later to give Tennessee its biggest lead at 65-51 with 7:02 left.
Mississippi State tried to rally but couldn’t get the margin below seven the rest of the way.
TRIO OF T’s
The game got a little heated with less than five minutes left when players from both teams jawed with one another after Alexander blocked a shot from Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry. Alexander, Schofield and Perry all ended up receiving technical fouls.
The Vols’ 28 wins match the second-highest total in school history. Tennessee went 28-9 in 2009-10 and 31-5 in 2007-08. Now the Vols are seeking their first SEC tournament crown since 1979 and the first NCAA tournament No. 1 seed in program history.
“I just know this league deserves a No. 1 seed is what I believe,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “There’s no doubt.”