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Missouri advances to SEC semifinals for first time with win against Tennessee

 Brian Hartman   in Basketball

Missouri advanced to the SEC Tournament semifinals for the first time, beating #17 Tennessee 79-71 Friday in Nashville, TN.

D'Moi Hodge led Missouri in scoring with 26 points. Hodge shot 9-16 from the floor, including 4-9 from 3. 

Nick Honor (8 points) and Hodge connected on back-to-back 3-pointers with under 2 minutes left to give Mizzou a 75-69 lead, their biggest of the game at that point.

Honor's 3 snapped a 69-69 tie with 1:51 left. A critical backcourt turnover by Tennessee's Julian Phillips and Tyreke Key set up Hodge's back-breaking 3-pointer only 14 seconds later. 

Tennessee took a 66-65  lead with 4:30 left, courtesy of two free throws by Jahmai Mashack. Missouri then finished the game by outscoring the Vols 14-5.

Missouri improved to 24-8, beating the Vols for the second time this season. Tennessee fell to 23-10.  

Missouri's Kobe Brown showed why he is a first-team all-SEC player. Brown scored 24 points while shooting 9-13 from the floor, including 4-9 from 3-point range. He led his team with 9 rebounds. Brown said the plan was to run and score before Tennessee's defense could get set. 

DeAndre Gholston and Noah Carter finished with 10 and 8  points respectively for Mizzou.

"We knew this would be a big challenge. We knew there was going to be a lot of orange in there and there was. Proud of my guys," Missouri first-year coach Dennis Gates said.

Tennessee has a strong defensive reputation. Not against Missouri. The Tigers torched the Vols' defense in a 86-85 win Feb 11th in Knoxville. That was the most points Tennessee has given up all season.

Missouri shot 18-30 in the second half of today's rematch, including 7-12 from 3. The Tigers scored 49 second half points, outscoring the Vols by 11 points over the final 20 minutes. Tennessee led 33-30 at the break. 

Missouri's 79 points are tied for the second most the Vols have given up this season. 

Kobe Brown and D'Moi Hodge hit seven 3s between them while taking the ball to the basket without much resistance. Missouri was 20-31 from inside the three-point arc.

The Vols had no one who could guard Brown once he got favorable position around the basket. Tennessee's Olivier Nkamhoua and Tobe Awaka tried to one-on-one, but Brown was too much. Tennessee's Josiah Jordan James could not guard Brown on the perimeter either. James has a reputation as a very solid on-the-ball defender. 

The Vols saw 5 players score in double figures in the loss. Santiago Vescovi had his usual solid outing, scoring a team-high 17 points while shooting 5-9 from 3. 

Tyreke Key was 7-12 from the floor while scoring 16 points. Key scored a season-high 23 points vs Missouri on Feb 11th

Jahmai Mashack was 5-8 from the floor, scoring 14 points. Mashack led Tennessee with 4 assists.  

Olivier Nkamhoua had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Freshman Julian Phillips came off the bench to score 10 points for the Vols. 

The Vols were playing their third game without Zakai Zeigler, who tore his ACL on Feb 28th against Arkansas.

"We're still trying to learn how to play without him (Zeigler) and it showed at times. I'm really proud of our effort, but Missouri made some big-time shots at the end. I think these last three games are going to help us," Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. 
Missouri will play Alabama tomorrow at 1ET for a spot in the SEC Tournament Final on Sunday (1ET).

Tennessee will head back to Knoxville and start to prepare for their 5th NCAA Tournament appearance since 2018. The Vols are projected to be a 3 or 4 seed by most bracket experts. Coach Dennis Gates said that Tennessee has a "2 seed body of work."

"I think we have as good of a chance as anybody. We're resilient. We will learn from this game. A lot of teams would like to be in this position. We will be a tough matchup for some people. The biggest prize is still out there," Coach Barnes said. 

Tennessee failed at their attempt to repeat as SEC Tournament champions. Kentucky was the last program to pull that off, winning this event four seasons in a row from 2015-2018.

This is Tennessee's earliest exit from the SEC Tournament since 2017, when the Vols lost on Thursday to Georgia. The Vols made it to the Finals in 2018, 2019, and won the tournament title in 2022. There was no SEC tournament in 2020 due to the global Covid 19 pandemic. 

Missouri will play in its first SEC Tournament semifinal since joining the conference in 2013. They had lost all 3 previous quarterfinal games before today's win. The Tigers are projected as a 5 or 6 seed by most bracket experts.

Missouri shot 24-52 from behind the 3-point line in two games vs the Vols this season. Good for 46.2%. All of the Vols' other opponents combined to shoot 176-699 from 3 vs Tennessee. That's only 25.1%