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Tennessee basketball loses to Mississippi State and No. 1 seed prospects

NASHVILLE − Tennessee basketball opened the postseason by playing its worst game of the season on Friday and that's how it will play out in the NCAA tournament.

The Vols couldn't make a shot, couldn't stop Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament and couldn't stay in the race for the final No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It was a win for the top-seeded Vols (24-8). They lost miserably 73-56 to the No. 9-seeded Bulldogs (21-12) in the quarterfinals of the SEC tournament at Bridgestone Arena. UT's 56 points marked a season low.

Tennessee will meet its NCAA Tournament fate on Sunday (6 p.m. ET, CBS), but is projected to land in second place according to bracketologists' projections. He will begin a two-game losing streak, his first losing streak since November.

Dalton Knecht, the SEC Player of the Year, had 14 points for the Vols. Zakai Zeigler scored a game-high 20 points against the Bulldogs, the only SEC team the Vols haven't beaten this season.

Tennessee's first half was futile at best

Tennessee's worst half this season was a 22-point performance against MSU in Starkville. It was worse on Friday. The Vols had 19 points in the first half. They shot 2 of 18 from 3-point range and shot 20.6% from the field.

UT had issues with turnovers to tie into the scoring issues. He turned the ball over on four straight possessions early in the game and made five in 2:57 between media timeouts. The Vols finished the first half with a Knecht turnover at center field that led to a Mississippi State dunk to double the Vols 38-19 at halftime.

Mississippi State fought its way to the rim

The Bulldogs took just five 3-pointers in the first half, easily abusing Tennessee inside. MSU scored 28 points in the paint in the first half, shooting 12 of 15 at the rim.

This barrage included several three-point plays, a pair of loud dunks and an overly easy offense.

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Tennessee struggled to shoot 3-pointers until a late burst

Jahmai Mashack launched an open 3-pointer in the first half. He slammed off the backboard, missing far too long.

Tennessee was desperate shooting 3-pointers against MSU early – and it shot a ton of them. The Vols made three of their first 23 attempts.

Zeigler was 0 of 6 in the first half and missed his first seven attempts before going into the second half with four completions. He hit consecutive 3-pointers to bring UT within 12 with 5:03 remaining.

Following

Tennessee opens the NCAA Tournament on Thursday or Friday. He will know his ranking, opponent and location for the opening match on Selection Sunday.

Mike Wilson covers University of Tennessee athletics. Email him at michael.wilson@knoxnews.com and follow him on Twitter @ByMikeWilson. If you like Mike's coverage, consider a digital subscription this will allow you to access all of this.

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