MSU Plays Tough But Loses At Tennessee

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Everything seemed to point to an upset. Tennessee's starting center and a key reserve were out with the flu, and the fourth-ranked Volunteers let a 19-point lead slip away trying to rebound from their second loss of the season. Tennessee wouldn't let it happen. Tony Harris scored 22 points and Ron Slay added 15 as the Vols withstood Mississippi State's late rally for an 84-79 win Saturday. Antonio Jackson cut Tennessee's lead to two with a 3-pointer with 27.8 seconds to go. But Mississippi State (10-5, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) didn't get any closer as Tennessee's Vincent Yarbrough made four free throws and Jon Higgins had one down the stretch. ``It was never a doubt in my mind we were going to win the game. We were just waiting on the right people to step up and make free throws and knock a few jumpers down,'' Yarbrough said. Tennessee (17-2, 4-1) went 13-of-16 on free throws in the final two minutes. Harris was 11-of-12 from the line. ``We were pressured to make them and so we did a good job of making them,'' Harris said. Isiah Victor had 14 points, Yarbrough added 12 and Harris Walker had 10 for the Vols, who have won 17 straight games at home and haven't lost consecutive games since February 1999. Tennessee lost at Kentucky on Tuesday, and the Vols had to recover from that without ailing starting center Charles Hathaway and reserve guard Terrence Woods. ``We really missed Charles' big body inside and Terrence's 3-point shooting,'' Harris said. ``Everybody was ready to step up for those two.'' Slay started in place of Hathaway and guarded Mississippi State's Robert Jackson, who was averaging a team-high 13.2 points. He picked up two fouls early, didn't play most of the first half, fouled out with 1:24 left and finished with just four points. ``It was real big. I think that really changed the pace of the game,'' Harris said. ``No one expected him to get into foul trouble early, but he did.'' Antonio Jackson finished with 21 points, Tang Hamilton 20 and Mario Austin 14 for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have lost eight SEC road games in a row and haven't won on the road since defeating Arizona 75-74 in the championship of the Fiesta Bowl Classic. Mississippi State trimmed the lead to three twice in the final 2:20 before the final rally. Austin's layup with 44.9 seconds to go cut Tennessee's lead to 77-74, but Harris was fouled on the next possession and made both free throws. ``The positive thing was that we showed heart. We had every opportunity to lie low, but we put ourselves in a position to win and that's all you can ask on the road,'' Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. Earlier, reserve Guy Gardner hit a 3, was fouled by Harris and made the free throw. Then Hamilton had a driving layup that drew Mississippi State to 71-68 with 2:20 left. Victor and Harris then made two free throws apiece to put Tennessee ahead 75-68 with 1:40 to go. Mississippi State had cut a 19-point deficit down to eight with a 14-3 run midway through the second half. Antonio Jackson had five points during the spurt, and his free throw followed by Austin's lay-in cut Tennessee's lead to 65-57 with 9:23 remaining. ``Even when you are ahead by 19 points, a good team will come back on you,'' Tennessee coach Jerry Green said. ``You have to be brave and strong not only on the road, but at home.'' Tennessee played the second half without a shot clock over the Mississippi State basket. The shot clock didn't work and couldn't be replaced.