Photo via Tennessee Athletics
Julian Phillips hit the first three-pointer, Josiah-Jordan James drilled one from the right wing, then Zakai Zeigler added one, then another, and another and another.
By the end, the Tennessee Warriors, I mean Volunteers, made eight-of-9 second half three-pointers and overcame a half deficit to knock off Mississippi State, 70-59, in Starkville.
“That was a win that showed a lot of character because a lot of teams would go out there and still dwell on the last game,” sophomore guard Zakai Zeigler said. “We didn’t do that. We were just ourselves and despite us having two starters down, two of our main players, we went out there and just showed teams we can still do it.”
Without starting guards Tyreke Key and Santiago Vescovi, Tennessee’s offense was a turnover machine in the first 14:57 of the game. The Vols coughed the ball up nine times and scored just 10 points as Mississippi State opened up a nine point lead.
The Vols found their footing and used a late first half run to tie the game at halftime.
Sophomore point guard Zakai Zeigler flipped a script, playing terribly for most of the first half before going on to score a career-high 24 points. Zeigler didn’t turn it over after coughing it up five times in the first half and made all four three-point attempts after missing all six attempts in the first half.
“The fact that he got going offensively,” Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said. “We told him, you come off these ball screens or you come off these money sets, you have to shoot it. I thought that once he started doing that, everyone else fed off his confidence.”
“That’s just who he is,” Julian Phillips said. “He doesn’t quit no matter how the game goes and obviously you can’t be perfect in any games you play so just not being down on yourself and continuing to stay aggressive and great things will come out of that just like how he did. He had a great performance.”
Phillips was pretty darn good himself. After scoring just two points in Saturday’s loss against Kentucky, the five-star freshman used one of the best performances of his young career against the Bulldogs.
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The wing totaled 18 points and 11 rebounds including 13 points in the second half. Even in the midst of a 47 point second half, Tennessee’s offense had a slow spurt. Phillips stepped up when it did, scoring eight straight points in one stretch midway through the half.
“We have said you have to get aggressive,” Barnes said of Phillips. “You have to shoot the ball. He is rebounding the ball. … He scored at about every level you can score, the way he attacked and went at it tonight.”
Even with Zeigler and Phillips’ brilliant first halves, Tennessee’s three-point numbers are what glaringly stick out about the Vols’ massive second half.
When you shoot eight-of-nine from three, things are going to look good on the offensive end. That shooting production coming off a two-of-15 three-point shooting first half makes it all the crazier.
The result is Tennessee earning a massive win after Saturday’s disappointing loss against Kentucky. The Vols are now 5-1 in SEC play and still in the thick of the conference race entering Saturday’s road trip to LSU.
“That is a great character win for our team,” Barnes said.