KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Craig Sword scored 26 points Tuesday as Mississippi State relied on sizzling 3-point shooting to beat Tennessee 71-66 and end its recent February misery.
Mississippi State (11-11, 4-5 SEC) shot 55.8 percent (19 of 34) overall and 72.7 percent (8 of 11) from 3-point range to end a string of 16 consecutive February losses. The Bulldogs hadn't won a February game since beating South Carolina 69-67 in overtime on Feb. 29, 2012.
The Bulldogs led 63-61 in the final minute when Tennessee's Derek Reese drove into the lane and missed a dunk attempt. Fred Thomas got the rebound, raced to the other end of the floor and converted a three-point play with 52 seconds left.
Thomas had 20 points for Mississippi State. Sword and Thomas combined to shoot 12 of 15 overall and 8 of 10 on 3-pointers.
Josh Richardson scored a career-high 30 points for Tennessee (13-8, 5-4).
Mississippi State found a way to win despite attempting 26 fewer shots than Tennessee, which had 20 offensive rebounds and outscored the Bulldogs 17-6 in second-chance points. The Volunteers shot 41.7 percent (25 of 60) overall 25 percent (5 of 20) on 3-pointers.
The Bulldogs backed up the pregame comments of Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall, who said Monday that he didn't think anyone in the SEC had improved as much as Mississippi State since the start of conference play. When these two teams met Jan. 7 in the conference opener for both teams, Mississippi State lost 61-47.
Mississippi State entered the night in last place in the SEC in 3-point field-goal percentage (.305), though the Bulldogs were shooting much better from beyond the arc (.368) in league competition.
Mississippi State built an eight-point advantage early in the second half with frequent trips to the free-throw line, but its lead quickly vanished along with its offense. Mississippi State didn't make its first basket of the second half until Sword's 3-pointer broke a 41-all tie with 12:11 remaining.
But the Bulldogs eventually got the lead back up to eight and stayed in front the rest of the way.
Mississippi State: Sword has now averaged 18 points per game over his last five contests and has reached double figures in all of them. Sword, who underwent back surgery shortly before the start of the season, had reached double figures just once all season before that stretch.
Tennessee: Freshman forward Tariq Owens made his second career start, and his first since Dec. 6. Owens had four points, two rebounds and four fouls in 10 minutes. Reese came off the bench after starting Tennessee's last six games.
Mississippi State plays at Arkansas on Saturday.
Tennessee plays at Georgia on Saturday.