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No. 19 Tennessee was without starting junior forward Olivier Nkamhoua because of an ankle injury suffered Saturday that ended his season, but the team took over in a 72-63 win at Mississippi State on Wednesday night.
Freshman guard Kennedy Chandler scored 18 points with five rebounds, five steals and three assists, and junior guard Josiah-Jordan James also scored 18 as the Volunteers (17-6, 8-3 SEC) won their third straight in front of 7,014 at Humphrey Coliseum. Guard Santiago Vescovi added 11 points with seven assists and five rebounds.
Freshman Brandon Huntley-Hartfield started for Nkamhoua, who was averaging 8.6 points and 5.6 rebounds with 25 blocked shots through 22 starts. Huntley-Hartfield scored just four points in 14 minutes, but he had the backing of his teammates.
“We had thought of a lot of different combinations,” Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said. “We really put a lot of thought into it. But to be quite honest with you, Josiah, Santi, those guys, they told Brandon, ‘We’re going to tell coach to start you.’ I like that those guys did that. That’s what I like about this group. Now, they’re starting to take ownership. It’s their team.”
Guard Zakai Zeigler added 11 points and five steals off the bench and made 6-of-6 free throws. Four of those came over the last 47 seconds.
“When they start talking and making suggestions like that, it gives you really nice feelings as a coaching staff,” Barnes said.
Mississippi State’s Cameron Matthews hit a layup with 4:20 to go for a 61-61 tie, but Tennessee scored 11 of the game’s next 13 points. Chandler hit a layup, followed by a Vescovie 3-pointer off an assist by Zeigler, who closed the game with a layup and the four free throws.
Iverson Molinar led State (14-9, 5-5) with 16 points, and Garrison Brooks added 15.
In other games Wednesday, Florida won its fourth straight, 72-63 at home over Georgia and Alabama won 97-83 at Ole Miss behind career highs from Jaden Shackelford in points (30) and 3-pointers (8).
SATURDAY’S GAMES (All times eastern)
Texas A&M (15-9, 4-7) at No. 1 Auburn (22-2, 10-1), Noon, ESPN
Arkansas (19-5, 8-3) at Alabama (15-9, 5-6), Noon, SEC Network
South Carolina (13-10, 4-7) at Georgia (6-18, 1-10), 2 p.m., SEC Network
Florida (16-8, 6-5) at No. 5 Kentucky (20-4, 9-2), 4 p.m., ESPN
Vanderbilt (13-10, 5-6) at No. 19 Tennessee (17-6, 8-3), 6 p.m., SEC Network
Mississippi State (14-9, 5-5) at LSU (17-7, 5-6), 8 p.m., ESPN2
Ole Miss (12-12, 3-8) at Missouri (9-14, 3-7), 8:30 p.m., SEC Network