The Tennessee Volunteers’ conference road opener took an unexpected turn as they faced a 77-72 defeat at the hands of Mississippi State. Despite a valiant effort, the No. 5 Tennessee basketball team, down 15 points and trailing by 14 with under 17 minutes remaining, managed to tie the score three times down the stretch, only to be thwarted by the Bulldogs.

Tennessee (11-4, 1-1 SEC) saw standout performances from fifth-year guard Dalton Knecht and junior guard Zakai Zeigler, both contributing over 26 points each at Humphrey Coliseum.

In the postgame press conference, head coach Rick Barnes shared his thoughts on the game, expressing disappointment in the team’s inconsistency during the first half. Barnes acknowledged Mississippi State’s preparedness and credited their coach for the win. Despite a strong second-half effort and notable performances from Zeigler and Knecht, Tennessee fell short in crucial moments, allowing Mississippi State’s Tolu Smith to dominate the post.

Barnes emphasized the frustration of struggling against opponents with skilled post players, highlighting the need for better defensive consistency. He pointed out the challenges faced in defending the post and stressed the importance of understanding and utilizing defensive techniques, such as the legal use of the armbar.

Responding to questions, Barnes admitted the physicality of the game was as expected and discussed the difficulty of winning on the road in the SEC, particularly with inconsistent performances from key players like Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi.

Guard Zakai Zeigler echoed Barnes’ sentiments, emphasizing the team’s need to start better on the road and learn from mistakes. Despite the tough loss, Zeigler remained optimistic, stating that such defeats only serve to strengthen the team. He highlighted the effectiveness of the full-court press in the second half and shared insights into Dalton Knecht’s improved performance, attributing it to better shot execution and adjustment.

In conclusion, Barnes acknowledged the team’s learning curve and expressed confidence in Knecht’s continued improvement, emphasizing the importance of consistent defensive efforts for longer durations.

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