STARKVILLE, Miss. – Trae Golden led Tennessee to the cusp of a second-straight Southeastern Conference upset. He couldn't quite pull off the final act.
The Volunteers had a chance to tie or win on the last possession, but Mississippi State's Dee Bost stole the ball from Golden in the final seconds and coasted downcourt for a game-sealing dunk in the Bulldogs' 62-58 victory Thursday night at Humphrey Coliseum.
"He slipped. I just watched the film," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "He tried to go between his legs and he just slipped."
Tennessee (8-8, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) was going for its second-straight victory over a nationally ranked team, and had a great opportunity despite trailing by as many as 12 points in the second half against the 20th-ranked Bulldogs.
Tennessee cut Mississippi State's lead to 60-58 on Renaldo Woolridge's 3-pointer with 44.2 seconds remaining and the Volunteers got the ball back on a steal by Skylar McBee. Tennessee called timeout to set up a play with 11 seconds left, but Bost slapped the ball away from Golden as he fell to the floor and drove for the game-clinching dunk.
Golden led the Volunteers with 20 points. Jeronne Maymon scored 13 and Kenny Hall added 12 off the bench.
Mississippi State (14-3, 1-1) avoided its first 0-2 start in league play since 2003.
"I was trying to put as much pressure on him as I could," Bost said. "I knew they were going to try and go to him and get him the shot."
Bost, Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie all scored 13 points for the Bulldogs.
Bost didn't have a very good game until the final play, shooting 3 of 11 from the field and turning the ball over six times. But all that was forgotten as he dashed down the court, flushed the ball through the hoop with his right hand and listened to the crowd of 8,148 roar its approval.
"He's been struggling some offensively, but you never fault his effort," Bulldogs coach Rick Stansbury said. "And his effort came up big for us at the end."
The Bulldogs' defense was embarrassed in a 98-88 loss to Arkansas in Saturday's conference opener, but they were much more stingy against the Volunteers. Wendell Lewis had five blocked shots and Moultrie added four as Tennessee had to work hard for almost all its points close to the basket.
Mississippi State took a 36-27 lead at halftime, shooting 52 percent (13 of 25) from the field. The Bulldogs managed to keep their offense moving despite early foul trouble for Bost — the team's starting point guard who owns the school record for assists. But backup DeVille Smith did a decent imitation, with five assists in 15 first-half minutes.
MSU extended its lead to 12 early in the second half on a 3-pointer by Jalen Steele, but Tennessee fought back thanks to three 3-pointers by Golden and stifling defense that limited Mississippi State to 36 percent shooting in the second half.
"Golden got them back in that game — making those 3s," Stansbury said. "But we stepped up when we had to. Made some shots and made our free throws."
Tennessee was coming off its biggest win of the season — a 67-56 home victory over No. 13 Florida in the conference opener — but couldn't find enough offense to keep the momentum going.
"They're big and athletic," Hall said. "We were aggressive taking the ball to the basket, but that's basketball, sometimes it happens like that."
Golden shot 7 of 11 from the field, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range and 2 of 2 from the free throw line.
Martin was pleased the Volunteers even had a chance on the final possession considering the situation looked bleak early in the second half.
"When you get down 10 on the road, it's tough to hang in there, stick to the script and execute," Martin said. "But I thought our guys did that."
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