STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State stepped up its offensive play on the court Friday night but fell short in a straight-sets loss to defending SEC champion Tennessee at the Newell-Grissom Building. UT (16-6, 9-4 SEC) rode the one-two punch of Kelsey Robinson and DeeDee Harrison to 25-18, 25-21 and 25-17 wins over the Bulldogs (4-19, 0-14 SEC).
State totaled 38 kills and hit at a .148 clip, its best offensive totals in nine matches dating back to a Sept. 28 match against LSU.
Bulldog head coach Jenny Hazelwood credited much of State's offensive success to the play of sophomore setter Rachael Williams. "She did an outstanding job of putting the ball where it needed to be tonight. I'm so proud of the way she ran the offense tonight. She's nearing full recovery from her late-spring ankle injury, and it's beginning to show on the court."
Playing in her fourth match of the campaign, the Madison, Ala., product registered a season-best and match-leading 34 assists.
Hazelwood also singled out the play of junior outside hitter Dani McCree. On a career-best .550 hitting night, McCree matched a season-high with a team-leading 11 kills. She tallied 11 kills on 20 error-free swings.
Freshman Taylor Scott, the Bulldogs' kills leader this fall, added 10 kills and with nine digs just missed double-double status for the match.
Freshman libero Roxanne McVey took match honors with 17 digs, raising her SEC-leading season total to 437. She climbed ahead of Tara Domel (423 digs in 1995) into ninth place among MSU's all-time single-season digs leaders.
Tennessee hit at a match-best .455 clip in the opening set and used a 7-1 run midway in the stanza to break open a close battle.
State extended the Lady Vols deeper in the second set. Scott, shut out in the opening set, delivered her eighth kill of the set to pull the Bulldogs to within a point at 20-19. UT, however, out-pointed MSU 5-2 down the stretch for a 25-21 win.
Tennessee bolted to a 9-1 advantage in the third set and never trailed in taking the match-clincher 25-17. Robinson finished the night with 13 kills and four blocks while Harrison had 10 kills on a .500 hitting performance and backed that with five assisted blocks. The Lady Vols enjoyed a 9-3 advantage in total team blocking.
The match, State's first at the Newell-Grissom Building since Sept. 30, featured a renewal of the SEC sister rivalry between State senior Chanelle Baker (5 kills, 8 digs, 1 block) and her younger sister, Vol sophomore Tiffany Baker (9 kills, 4 blocks).
The Bulldogs resume home competition Sunday with a 1:30 p.m. (CST) match against SEC West rival Alabama (14-12, 3-11 SEC). The Crimson Tide dropped a straight sets decision at SEC West-leading Texas A&M Friday (25-17, 25-22, 25-21).