TAMPA, Fla. - Stifling second-half defense and a flurry of threes from Josiah-Jordan James to open the second half propelled Tennessee to a SEC Tournament Quarterfinals win Friday, as the No. 2 seed and ninth-ranked Vols defeated Mississippi State, 72-59.
James finished with a game-high 16 points on 6-for-11 shooting in the win, 14 of which came in the second half. James also had five rebounds and four assists.
James was one of five Vols to score in double figures. SEC All-Freshman Team selections Zakai Zeigler and Kennedy Chandler had 11 points apiece. Zeigler also had a career-high eight assists, while Chandler tallied six.
Brandon Huntley-Hatfield and first-team All-SEC selection Santiago Vescovi scored 10 points each.
With Tennessee leading by just two coming out of the halftime break, James hit four 3-pointers in a row-all in a span of 3:22-to spark a 12-3 Big Orange run that put Tennessee in front 51-40.
The Vols never led by less than eight from that point forward, pulling away with a 12-4 run that extended the lead from eight points to 16 with 7:28 remaining-capped off by six straight points from Zeigler.
Defensively, Tennessee (24-7) limited Mississippi State to 6-for-25 (.240) shooting in the second half after the Bulldogs shot 56.5 percent from the field in the first half. Mississippi State made just three of its first 16 shots to start the second half.
Despite forcing 11 Mississippi State turnovers by the 8:28 mark of the first half, Tennessee was unable to pull away in the opening period and took a 39-37 lead into halftime.
The Vols led by as many as eight points late in the opening period at 30-22, but the Bulldogs responded with an 8-0 run to tie the game and lead to the close halftime score.
The Bulldogs shot 56.5 percent from the field during the first half, as Iverson Molinar, Tolu Smith and D.J. Jeffries each scored nine points-shooting a combined 10-for-11 from the field. Mississippi State was also aided by a strong showing at the free-throw line, making nine out of 11 attempts from the charity stripe.
Mississippi State also made waves on the glass during the first half, outrebounding Tennessee 18-10.
Chandler led Tennessee with nine first-half points, also dishing out five assists.
UP NEXT: Tennessee advances to Saturday's semifinal round of the SEC Tournament, taking on the winner of Friday night's matchup between No. 3 seed Kentucky and No. 11 seed Vanderbilt at approximately 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN (25 minutes after the conclusion of the first semifinal game).
VESCOVI MOVING UP SINGLE-SEASON 3-POINTERS LIST: With two made 3-pointers during Friday's win, Santiago Vescovi moved into a tie for seventh place with JaJuan Smith (2007-08) on Tennessee's all-time single-season made 3-pointers list. Vescovi has 89 made threes in 31 games this season.