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No. 12 Tennessee beats Mississippi St 67-63

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STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP)

Tennessee's record against Mississippi State remains unblemished.

But unlike so many lopsided games in this series, this one was a struggle until the final minute.

Ariel Massengale and Bashaara Graves both scored 13 points, Isabelle Harrison added 10 and the 12th-ranked Lady Vols survived a tough challenge from Mississippi State before escaping with a 67-63 win on Thursday night.

Tennessee (14-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) has won all 35 games in the series against Mississippi State (14-4, 1-3), but this was the tightest outcome in more than a decade.

''It was a battle for us and a great win for us,'' Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. ''We've struggled a little bit and we've played up and down, so it's good to see us hang tough and battle at the end to get stops and make plays.''

Kendra Grant led Mississippi State with 21 points off the bench. Katia May added 14 and six assists, and Martha Alwal had 10 points and nine rebounds.

''It was a heckuva basketball game, but I think you're looking at some disappointed Bulldogs,'' Mississippi State coach Vic Schaefer said. ''I don't think there's anybody that's satisfied with anything about the outcome.''

Said May: ''You could taste it. It was that close.''

The Lady Vols led 26-23 at halftime and never trailed in the second half. But the Bulldogs cut the lead to 64-61 on a pair of Breanna Richardson's free throws with 26.4 seconds left.

Tennessee got a break on the ensuing possession when Mississippi State's Ketara Chapel committed a foul before the ball was thrown inbounds. Candace Foster made 1 of 2 free throws to put the Lady Vols up 65-61.

Massengale hit two more free throws seconds later to put the game away.

Tennessee shot 49 percent (24 of 49) from the field - including a terrific 14 of 21 (66.7 percent) in the second half - but had 22 turnovers. Andraya Carter added nine points, five rebounds and two steals.

''I thought (Mississippi State) played great,'' Carter said. ''They played better than the films that we watched. They brought it. They had heart and hustle and looked like they wanted it, especially in the beginning. They were going after us, so hats off to them, but we got the W.''

It's been a rough stretch for the Lady Vols, especially by their lofty standards. They had just a 3-3 record over the previous six games coming into Thursday night.

And a lethargic start against the Bulldogs left Warlick shaking her head for much of the first half. Tennessee jumped out to a 16-6 lead only to see Mississippi State claw back almost immediately.

Warlick has been critical of her team's defense in recent weeks, but it was the offense that struggled early against the Bulldogs. The Lady Vols shot just 10 of 28 from the field (35.7 percent) and had 13 turnovers in the first half.

Tennessee's shooting improved drastically after halftime, but Mississippi State wouldn't go away. Every time the Lady Vols got some separation, the Bulldogs came right back.

Grant, a 5-foot-11 junior, had another good game against the Lady Vols in Starkville. She scored 17 against them two years ago.

But Mississippi State was outscored 18-7 on free throws and couldn't find a way to stop Tennessee in the final minutes. Schaefer said he was pleased that the Bulldogs were much more competitive than a year ago, when the Lady Vols won 88-45 in Knoxville, Tenn.

''I'd say we've come a little ways,'' Schaefer said. ''But at the same time, I'd say our expectations are a little different.''

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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