Mississippi State Basketball Dominates Tennessee to Lock-Up Tournament Bid

Mississippi State basketball put together one of their best performances in years to blowout the SEC champions in Nashville.

Mar 15, 2024; Nashville, TN, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Cameron Matthews (4) dunks the
Mar 15, 2024; Nashville, TN, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Cameron Matthews (4) dunks the / Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports
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Mississippi State basketball defeated the Tennessee Volunteers 73-56 in the quarterfinals of the 2024 SEC Men's Basketball Tournament in Nashville Friday afternoon. The 9-seed Bulldogs boat-raced the 1-seed, SEC Champion Vols, leading for the entire game. MSU moved to 21-12 on the season.

State came out on fire on both ends of the court. The offense was the sharpest it had been in over two weeks, and the defense had arguably its best performance of the season. In the few moments where Tennessee would go on runs to seemingly get back into the game, Mississippi State quickly answered back with runs of their own to remove any doubts about the final outcome.

It was a dominant performance from start for finish. The win was MSU's third Top-10 victory of the season, and it sends them to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament for the first time since 2010. It's one of the biggest victories the program has seen in years.

Mississippi State basketball's defense was elite vs Tennessee

Mississippi State basketball played fantastic defense in their first SEC Tournament win over LSU after a few weeks of defensive struggles. They built on that performance against the Volunteers for their most impressive defensive effort of the season.

In the first half, the Bulldogs held Tennessee to just 19 points on 7-34 shooting (20.6%). Thought the Vols picked up the pace in the second half, they still finished with their lowest scoring output and worst shooting day of the year, as pointed out by ESPN's Cole Cubelic.

State put the clamps on SEC Player of the Year Dalton Knecht. Knecht had 14, but he shot just 4-17 from the floor. Nearly every time he touched the ball, he was quickly doubled by the Bulldogs. Zakai Zeigler led Tennessee with 20 points but still had a low-efficiency shooting day.

Cameron Matthews put on a show for Mississippi State basketball

Cameron Matthews is often described as a "grinder" or a "glue guy", and those descriptors are accurate. He's traditionally been a player who made the key plays that don't always show up on the stat sheet. But this season he has developed into a true do-it-all guy for Mississippi State basketball.

On Friday, he had arguably the best game of his career. Chris Jans had the 6'7", 230 lb forward running the point throughout the game, and he thrived in the role. Matthews posted 18 points, nearly a career-high, on a remarkable 7-7 shooting. He also registered eight rebounds, three assists, and two steals. And his biggest moment was this earth-shattering slam over the Volunteer defense.

Star freshman Josh Hubbard also added 18 for the Bulldogs as part of a strong offensive outing against an elite Volunteer defense. State shot 55% from the floor against Tennessee, their best shooting day since December.

Mississippi State basketball is officially a NCAA Tournament lock

After Mississippi State defeated LSU on Thursday, many declared them a lock to reach the NCAA Tournament. Though the odds seemed likely at the time, it was premature to suggest the Bulldogs were certain to make the field based only on that result.

The tournament bubble is crowded with several deserving teams boasting comparable resumes and limited spots available. And on Thursday, most of those bubble teams picked up wins, several of which were significant.

Going into today, several bracketologists were not convinced MSU was a lock to return to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, a few declared that with a loss today, the Bulldogs would be sweating on Selection Sunday.

But now Mississippi State has removed all doubt. Tennessee was the #5 team in the NET and a projected 1-seed entering today. This was the elite win the Bulldogs needed to vault themselves above the rest of the bubble and lock themselves into March Madness.

Mississippi State basketball will go dancing in 2024. But for now, they'll look to earn their first trip to the SEC Championship since 2010 against Auburn on Saturday.