STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Dee Bost has been stuck in a slump the past few weeks and Thursday night's game against Tennessee -- filled with missed shots and turnovers -- was quickly becoming another one to forget.
Until the last play.
A tense final possession turned into a raucous celebration as Bost came up with a crucial steal and dunk in the final seconds and No. 20 Mississippi State survived a late scare to beat Tennessee 62-58 at Humphrey Coliseum.
"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."
Mississippi State (14-3, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) avoided its first 0-2 start in league play since 2003. The Bulldogs led by 12 early in the second half, but Tennessee cut it to 60-58 on Renaldo Woolridge's 3-pointer with 44.2 seconds remaining.
Tennessee got the ball back on a steal by Skylar McBee and had a chance to tie or win with less than 10 seconds remaining, but Bost slapped the ball away from Trae Golden and drove for the game-sealing dunk.
"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."
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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 at Humphrey Coliseum roar its approval.
Tennessee (8-8, 1-1) was led by Golden, who had 20 points. Jeronne Maymon scored 13 and Kenny Hall added 12 off the bench.
"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."
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.
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. But he mishandled the ball on the final possession, trying to go between the legs with his dribble before Bost slapped the ball away and ended the Volunteers' hopes for an upset.
"He slipped. I just watched the film," Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin said. "He tried to go between his legs and he just slipped."
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."