By JOEL COLEMAN
Mississippi State had waited 30 years to beat Tennessee. So what’s another five minutes?
After failing to defeat the Lady Vols in all 36 of their previous meetings, the No. 13 Bulldogs finally broke through against No. 19 Tennessee on Thursday night at Humphrey Coliseum, needing overtime to claim a 65-63 victory.
MSU (18-4, 5-3) overcame a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit and ended regulation on a 7-0 run to send the game to overtime. In the extra period, Chinwe Okorie’s rebound and basket with 1:53 to play gave Mississippi State a lead that wouldn’t be relinquished. Tennessee had one final chance to tie the game with 3 seconds left, but Te’a Cooper’s layup was missed as Dominique Dillingham fought for the rebound that sealed the Bulldogs’ first-ever victory over the Lady Vols (12-8, 3-4).
“I’m so proud of my kids,” MSU head coach Vic Schaefer said. “These kids are special. We were basically on life support, then we fight our way back in it.
“To be able to do this the way we did it is really special.”
Four MSU players scored in double figures for the night. Dillingham and Victoria Vivians led the way with 14 points apiece. Morgan William added 11 and Okorie finished with 10.
Tennessee was paced by Jordan Reynolds. Reynolds scored 15 points. Cooper and Andraya Carter each had 11 in defeat.
“To fight this hard and then lose, it’s just disheartening,” Carter said.
The teams fought through a back-and-forth first half. The lead changed hands nine times over the first two quarters and featured eight ties.
As the half came to a close though, Tennessee grabbed all the momentum. Reynolds drilled a 3-pointer as time expired to send the teams to the locker rooms tied at 33-33.
The Lady Vols carried that energy into the second half as they outscored the Bulldogs 22-10 in the third quarter to put Mississippi State in a 55-43 hole.
The Bulldogs bounced back in the final period with a defensive effort that sparked the comeback. Tennessee scored just three points in the fourth quarter and made just one of eight shots from the field in the frame.
“In the third quarter we were awful,” Schaefer said. “Fourth quarter, you saw us play 10 minutes of matchup. We had to stop (Tennessee’s) dribble penetration. It was killing us and they made one basket in the fourth quarter.”
In overtime, Tennessee surged ahead 62-61 before Okorie’s rebound and score put MSU on the way to the win.
“I just boxed out, saw the ball and grabbed it,” Okorie said. “I heard (Dillingham) say go back up, so I trusted her and did.”
Finally, though things looked bleak early, Mississippi State had its win over Tennessee.
“What tremendous toughness by our kids to stay after it, compete and find a way to win,” Schaefer said.