By JOEL COLEMAN
It was a different day, but the same result for Mississippi State. Again, the Bulldogs were in a close game late. Again, MSU came up short.
Tennessee became the latest foe to narrowly get by Mississippi State as the Volunteers topped the Bulldogs 80-75 at Humphrey Coliseum on Saturday.
It was a loss that MSU head coach Ben Howland said will change his coaching strategy going forward.
“I take full responsibility,” Howland said. “Our zone defense, I thought it would help us win some games and it has really not played out that way in the conference.”
The loss made MSU 0-4 in Southeastern Conference play for the first time since 1992-93. MSU is now 7-9 overall this year.
“It’s really tough on (the team),” Howland said. “It’s tough on me. I know how I feel.”
Derrick Mostella and Kevin Punter led the way for Tennessee (9-8, 2-3) on Saturday. Montella scored 24 points while Punter added 23.
MSU countered with strong performances from freshman Quinndary Weatherspoon and senior Gavin Ware.
Weatherspoon had a career high 23 points. Ware scored 21. It wasn’t enough though for the Bulldogs to climb out of their current rut.
“It’s very frustrating,” Ware said. “We’ll watch film and get over this hump we’re in.”
Tennessee used a 13-0 first-half run to pull away from MSU early. Following a frantic couple of minutes to open the game that saw the Bulldogs claim a 9-8 lead, the Vols went on top 14-9 with a pair of 3-pointers from Devon Baulkman.
Mostella then stretched the Tennessee advantage with a layup. After a pair of free throws from Punter and a bucket from Shembari Phillips, the Vols led 21-9.
The Bulldogs climbed back to within five at 29-24 with 6:23 left in the period, but Tennessee closed the half on a 9-3 run to take a 38-27 lead into the locker room at the intermission.
MSU battled back in the second half. After getting away from zone defense earlier in the first half, Howland switched to man and the Bulldogs clawed back.
“We’re better playing man-to-man,” Howland said. “That’s what I believe in as a coach. We’ve got to get away from (zone) and live and die with our man-to-man defense.”
With 5:15 to play, Mississippi State trailed by just one at 60-59. Tennessee went on an 8-1 run to go up 67-60, but the Bulldogs continued to fight.
A pair of late 3-pointers from Weatherspoon put MSU down just 73-70 with 53 seconds to play, but the Bulldogs couldn’t get any closer as MSU dropped another tight battle.
Weatherspoon said the Bulldogs are determined to find a way to come out on the winning end of similar games in the future.
“We all have to be mentally tough,” Weatherspoon said. “I think the biggest thing is that we just have to play defense and toughen up.”
MSU will get its next opportunity for a win on Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Florida.