A critical win for MSU, the Bulldogs snapped a five-game losing streak here, winning in this arena for the first time since 1999. The Maroon and White moved back into a two-way tie with Arkansas for second place in the Western Division. The Bulldogs and Razorbacks meet in a critical game Wednesday, since the top two teams in each division receive first-round byes at the SEC Tournament.
MSU is now 15-13 overall and 7-7 in league play, while Tennessee is 17-12 and 7-7.
In his postgame interview with Cristil, MSU head coach Rick Stansbury directly credited the retirement with being an additional motivational factor in the victory.
"These guys had a little something extra in them tonight and that was because of you," Stansbury said. "We were disappointed Wednesday night that we couldn't send you out a winner in the Hump. But really, we couldn't have a picked a better place to go on the road in this league to fight and find a way to win a game on the road. And Jack, this one was all for you."
The Bulldogs posted one of their better defensive efforts of the season. MSU played without Jalen Steele, who is out with an ACL injury and Renardo Sidney, who logged only 10 minutes, because of illness.
The teams had a couple of times before Tennessee sprinted out to a 15-8 advantage. Down 25-17, the Bulldogs pieced together a 15-1 run. This also run included tenacious defense, sparked by a couple of blocks from Wendell Lewis and another from Kodi Augustus.
Dee Bost started things by nailing a 3-pointer from the top of the key. After a fast-break layup by Bost, a pair of Kodi Augustus free throws gave the Bulldogs a 26-25 lead with 4:27 left in the half. For MSU, Wendell Lewis extended the lead to 32-26 with a pair of free throws.
Tennessee ended the half with an 8-2 run, forcing a 34-all tie at the break.
"Our defensive effort was great the entire game," Stansbury said. "We helped out. We rebounded. We play smart defense. We played really well together in this game."
The Volunteers had the better of it in the opening stages of the second half. A Cameron Tatum jumper ran the UT lead to 42-37 with 16:23 left. The Maroon and White came back with a 9-2 run for a 46-44 lead with 11:08 left.
An Augustus trey placed the Maroon and White on top 51-46. A couple of possessions later, another Augustus 3-point make ran the lead to 56-49 with 7:54 left.
Tennessee got back ahead at 60-58 on an 11-2 run. The lead was short-lived as Bost answered on the other end with a 3-point basket. The lead switched hands a couple of times before Brian Bryant placed MSU on top 68-64 with running jumper in the lane at the 1:12 mark.
The Volunteers scored the game's next five points. A dunk by Tobias Harris placed the Vols ahead 69-68. On the other end, Bost drove the lane, the defense collapsed and Lewis received the entry pass in the lane, just in time for the game-winning dunk.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 25 of 63 shots from the field (39.7 percent), 8 of 25 shots from 3-point range (32.0 percent) and 12 of 15 shots from the foul line (80.0 percent). The Volunteers hit 24 of 66 shots from the field (36.4 percent), 5 of 21 shots from 3-point range (23.8 percent) and 16 of 23 shots from the foul line (69.6 percent).
Tennessee held a 48-40 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 17 assists and eight turnovers, while the Volunteers had 14 assists and seven turnovers.
Johnson paced the Bulldogs with 20 points. Augustus notched his eighth double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. Bost added 14 points.
UT received 22 points from Hopson and 16 from Harris.
The Bulldogs and Razorbacks tip at 8 p.m. Wednesday from Fayetteville. That contest will be televised regionally by Comcast Sports Southeast.