Hodge, Brown dominate as Mizzou overwhelms Tennessee
Nashville, Tenn. --- No. 4 seed Missouri (24-8, 11-7 SEC) won the back-and-forth battle against No. 5 seed Tennessee, 79-71, in the quarterfinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on Friday at Bridgestone Arena.
The Tigers secured a semifinal slot as they persevered in the contest that featured 15 ties and 13 lead changes. They trailed the Vols for over 21 minutes of the matchup, but found their flow in the final minutes to pull away ever so slightly.
D'Moi Hodge logged 26 points, the most any player has scored against Tennessee this season, and added four rebounds and three assists. Kobe Brown followed close behind with 24 on 9-of-13 shooting while recording nine boards and three assists. The duo combined for seven 3-pointers and became the third Mizzou teammates to score 20-plus points in the same SEC Tournament game and first since Jordan Geist and Torrence Watson did so in 2019 against Auburn.
Dean Gholston tacked on 10 points for the Tigers and Nick Honor scored eight with two threes and four assists.
Santiago Vescovi led Tennessee's offense with 17 points, joining Chris Lofton (2008) and Skylar McBee (2012) as the only Vols over the last 25 seasons to sink five 3-pointers in an SEC Tournament game.
Olivier Nkamhoua recorded his fourth career double-double and second this season with an 11-point, 10-rebound performance. Three other Volunteers scored in double figures: Tyreke Key with 16 and five rebounds, Jahma Mashack with 14 and Julia Phillips with 10 and eight rebounds.
Vescovi's hot hand ignited Tennessee's momentum with two early 3-pointers at the game's outset.
Brown responded by flushing a dunk, but the Volunteers were undeterred, going on a 10-3 run and setting up a 16-9 lead that prompted a Mizzou timeout as Tennessee fans went wild.
The Tigers fought back with a seven-point rush to match the Vols at 16 with 8:08 remaining in the first half as the battle for the lead began.
Hodge drilled a 3-pointer to push the Tigers ahead, but Key slammed one down to snatch the lead again before Vescovi hit another three to put Tennessee up, 25-21. However, Hodge was ready to fight back with a pair of free throws followed up by the equalizer on an fast-break dunk, tying it at 25-25 with 4:05 left in the half.
Brown forced his way to the basket with smooth handles to put Missouri on top, but Tennessee swiped the lead back once again with a Nkamhoua 3-pointer and a pair of free throws by Phillips. And yet, Brown wouldn't back down, draining a three to match up the score with only nine seconds left in the first half.
Jahmai Mashack hit one from distance right at the halftime buzzer, giving UT a 33-30 advantage as the crowd erupted yet again.
The Vols brought their momentum into the second half, but Mizzou had three 3-pointers lying in wait from the hands of Hodge, Honor and Brown to tie it up at 39. The tussle for the advantage continued as Tennessee closed in with a three-point play by Phillips and thenpulled ahead with back-to-back 3-pointers by Key, making it 55-53 UT and, prompting a Tigers timeout that brought the crowd to their feet still again midway through the second half.
The latter half of the second period boasted six ties and five lead changes as back-to-back threes by Honor and Hodge prove to be the difference makers, giving the Tigers a 75-69 advantage with only 1:25 left to play.
Key responded with what would be Tennessee's last basket of the game as Brown tacked on another layup and Hodge made a pair of free throws to finalize Mizzou's 79-71 victory.
Missouri will face 1-seed Alabama (27-5, 16-2 SEC) in the semifinals of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament on Saturday at 1pm ET -- the game will be aired on ESPN.
Tennessee (23-10, 11-7 SEC) is eliminated from the SEC Tournament and awaits word on when and where it will play in the upcoming NCAA Tournament.