STARKVILLE, Miss. – A strong final push and standout second-half showings from Zakai Zeigler and Julian Phillips propelled No. 9 Tennessee to a gritty road win Tuesday night at Mississippi State, 70-59.
Tennessee (15-3, 5-1 SEC) was playing Tuesday without two starters—Santiago Vescovi (injury) and Tyreke Key (illness).
Making his first start since November, Zeigler posted a career-high 24 points—16 of which came in the second half—along with a career-high-tying six rebounds and four assists in a career-high 40 minutes.
In the second half, Zeigler was 5-for-6 from the field, including 4-for-4 from 3-point range. His 16 second-half points were the most by a Vol in any half of any game this season.
Phillips authored his highest-scoring SEC game as a Vol and second-career double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds, also coming on strong after halftime with 13 second-half points.
Josiah-Jordan James, making his first start since November, was the third Vol to score in double figures with 13 points and three made 3-pointers.
As a team, Tennessee was 8-for-9 from 3-point range in the second half.
Facing a two-point deficit with just over nine minutes to play, the Vols hit eight of their final 10 shots to secure the road win. Trailing 46-44, Phillips got Tennessee’s final spurt started with a putback dunk off a missed layup that tied the game—the first two points of a 6-0 run that Phillips rattled off by himself to put the Vols in front by four at 50-46.
After Mississippi State responded with a three and then Zeigler answered with five straight points of his own, Tennessee pulled in front by six points at 55-49 with 5:59 left.
With Tennessee having built the six-point lead, Mississippi State responded with 3-pointers on two straight possessions—answered by the Vols both times with a three, the first by Zeigler and the second by James.
After the teams traded misses on each end of the court, Olivier Nkamhoua tacked on a third straight 3-pointer for the Vols to push Tennessee’s lead to nine points with 2:48 remaining.
Overall, Tennessee closed the game on a 12-4 run after the Bulldogs pulled within three points for a second straight possession with 4:51 to go.
Despite making just five of its first 20 shot attempts to start the game and not holding a lead in the first half, Tennessee was able to knot the game up at 23 at halftime thanks to a 13-4 run to end the half.
The Vols scored just 10 points in nearly 15 minutes to open the game and trailed by nine points before a three from James kickstarted the run to end the half.
Overall, the Vols scored 13 points in the final 5:03 of the half as compared to 10 points in the first 14:57. Tennessee and Mississippi State shot 32 and 31 percent from the field for the half as a whole, respectively.
Zeigler led Tennessee with eight first-half points—including six in the run to end the half. As a team, the Vols recorded 11 first-half turnovers.
UP NEXT: Tennessee is back on the road in just four days at LSU on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 4 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. CT on ESPN.
ZEIGLER GOES THE DISTANCE: In the absence of Tyreke Key and Santiago Vescovi, Zakai Zeigler played all 40 minutes of Tuesday’s win, becoming the first Vol to play 40 minutes in a regulation game since Jordan Bowden at Missouri on Jan. 7, 2020.
BOUNCEBACK WIN: Tennessee has now won nine straight games following a loss. The Vols have not lost consecutive games since the 2021 postseason.