Tennessee tops Missouri in first meeting since last season’s upset victory for Tigers

Tennessee's Meighan Simmons pushes through Missouri's Jordan Frericks as she drives toward the basket during Sunday's game in Columbia.

Tennessee's Meighan Simmons pushes through Missouri's Jordan Frericks as she drives toward the basket during Sunday's game in Columbia. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA (AP) — Missouri was hoping for a repeat of last season’s upset of Tennessee. The Tigers didn’t shoot well enough for a similar outcome.

Bri Kulas scored 22 points and Morgan Eye added 15 for the Tigers in the 56-50 loss to the No. 10 Lady Vols on Sunday.

The Tigers shot 7-of-32 from beyond the arc, including 2-of-15 before halftime. Despite the misses, the team clawed back to 50-47 on Kulas’ layup with 1:22 to go after the Lady Vols held a 43-27 advantage just 10 ½ minutes earlier.

Eye and Sierra Michaelis then both missed 3-pointers before Tennessee’s Isabelle Harrison drained four consecutive free throws for a 54-47 lead with nine seconds remaining.

“It was just one of those nights that we had a hard time getting things going,” Missouri coach Robin Pingeton said. “And it never really got contagious except for that little stretch down there in the second half.”

The Tigers (16-11, 5-9 Southeastern Conference) only trailed by one point at halftime and shot 29.2 percent from the field before Tennessee built its lead early in the second half.

“No, I don’t think we were nervous,” said Tennessee’s Andraya Carter about the final minute. “We actually just kept telling each other to stay composed. Just play our game, slow down, relax. We were going to be fine.”

Meighan Simmons scored 20 points, her fourth 20-plus performance in the past five games, and Mercedes Russell tied a career high with 11 rebounds to lead the Lady Vols (22-5, 11-3 SEC).

Missouri, which ranks third in the country and first in the SEC with 9.5 3-pointers per game, missed its first nine 3s before Kayla McDowell’s long-range attempt connected 9 ½ minutes into the game.

Only four players scored for the Tigers, who finished 7-of-32 from 3-point range.

“Our shots just weren’t falling tonight,” Kulas said. “But we’re still going to continue to shoot those shots because we have confidence in ourselves and we know we can knock down those shots.”

The schools met for the first time since Missouri upset then-No. 9 Tennessee 80-63 on Feb. 3, 2013. Officials announced attendance at 5,017, the highest this season for Missouri.

“There was definitely an extra edge,” Simmons said. “We knew we didn’t want to lose. We knew this was going to be a big game for us. We just decided to come out and just play hard.”

Eye gave the Tigers their first lead of the game with 3:30 remaining before the break, hitting her first 3-pointer in six attempts to give Missouri a 22-21 advantage. She finished short of her 18.4-point average, good for second in the SEC.

Missouri’s lead lasted only 22 seconds, though, as Russell converted a layup and Andraya Carter added another to give Tennessee a 23-22 halftime edge. The Lady Vols then started the second half on a 18-5 run before Eye ended it with a 3-pointer with 11:19 left.

“We knew it was huge,” Carter said. “We knew that just coming out in the second half, if we let them get going, it was going to be a long night. It was already a long night in itself.”

Tennessee committed 10 turnovers in the first half and six more in the second after placing special emphasis on holding onto the ball in practice following a 22-turnover performance against then-No. 18 Kentucky two games ago. That game resulted in a 75-71 loss, Tennessee’s only setback in its last nine games.

The Lady Vols outrebounded Missouri 48-35 and limited the Tigers to six free throws despite playing a pressure defense.

“We talked about that before the game, really having an attack mentality,” Pingeton said. “But you’re not going to get a lot of free throws when you shoot as many 3s as we did tonight.”

Simmons scored the Lady Vols’ first eight points of the game in 2:39, but tallied two more points in the half off a layup 12 minutes later. She finished 6-of-16 from the field while Bashaara Graves joined her in double figures with 11 points.

“It’s very disappointing to lose this game,” Eye said. “There’s no moral victory. I think we’re past that. We want to put a win on the scoreboard now.”

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