With 11 seconds to play against Mississippi State on Thursday night, Tennessee point guard Trae Golden had the ball and options.
The Bulldogs led, 60-58, but momentum was with the Volunteers, who had battled back from a 12-point second-half deficit. Renaldo Woolridge’s deep 3-pointer with 44.2 seconds left brought Tennessee to within a basket, and when Skylar McBee stole the ball from MSU point guard Dee Bost, the Vols had a chance to steal a big road victory.
It wasn’t to be. Closely guarded by Bost just inside the halfcourt line, Golden tried to dribble between his legs but lost his balance and the ball. Bost picked up the loose ball and drove for an uncontested dunk as No. 20 Mississippi State (14-3, 1-1 SEC) survived, 62-58.
The final play called for Woolridge to set a ball screen for Golden.
“Trae can decide, depending on how the guy was defending him, to turn the ball screen down and attack the rim and get to the free-throw line, or dump it off to Kenny (Hall) or one of your shooters (McBee),” Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. “Or he comes off Renaldo and Renaldo picks and pops. If they switch (the screen), Trae has a big guy on him and can get to the rim.”
It wasn’t meant to be. Golden’s turnover, his fifth of the game, proved too much to overcome.
“I was about to attack and make the play,” Golden said. “My left foot slipped from under me and I lost the ball. Lost the game. It was an unfortunate thing for us.”
Golden finished with a game-high 20 points.
The Vols (8-8, 1-1) looked to be in trouble after Jalen Steele’s 3-pointer gave the Bulldogs a 39-27 lead, their largest of the game, with 18:16 to play. But Tennessee kept chipping away and was in position to notch a second straight victory over a ranked conference opponent after surprising No. 13 Florida on Saturday.
Martin wasn’t pleased with the loss, but was satisfied that the Vols expended energy on the defensive end for the second straight game. They limited MSU to 36-percent shooting in the second half and gave themselves a chance to win.
“Our guys did a good job of competing,” he said. “The last two games are really a sign of how our program is built to defend. It took time for our guys to understand this is how we need to defend consistently. I thought we did a tremendous job.”
The Vols also competed on the backboards, outrebounding the Bulldogs, 35-28 and holding Moultrie to just four boards, only one on the offensive glass. Freshman Yemi Makanjuola grabbed six rebounds in just eight minutes to lead Tennessee.
Three players scored 13 points for Mississippi State: Bost, Moultrie and Renardo Sidney. The Bulldogs blocked 10 shots, five by Wendell Lewis.
Besides Golden, Jeronne Maymon and Hall reached double-figure scoring. Though he was limited to 18 minutes by foul trouble and eventually fouled out, Maymon scored 13 points. In his second game after relinquishing his starting spot, Hall contributed 12 after scoring 13 against Florida.