Lady Vols build big lead by haltime in rout of Texas A&M

Knoxville News Sentinel photo by Scott Keller via AP / Tennessee's Rae Burrell drives to the basket during Thursday's home game against Texas A&M.

KNOXVILLE - With one clutch shot Thursday night, Rae Burrell made a significant impact for Tennessee.

That's something the Lady Volunteers have been accustomed to throughout her time in their basketball program. In her second game back after missing a dozen due to a knee injury, they were happy to have Burrell's help again.

No. 7 Tennessee beat No. 25 Texas A&M 73-45 in a Southeastern Conference matchup at Thompson-Boling Arena that took a big turn even before halftime.

The visiting Aggies (10-4, 0-2) dominated the first quarter and led 21-17 as time wound down. With a couple seconds left, Burrell - who averaged 16.8 points per game in 2020-21 but got hurt in the opener this season - gathered up a loose ball and connected on a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Lady Vols (14-1, 3-0) used that momentum to start the second quarter on a 12-2 run and get all the breathing room they needed.

"That was the biggest shot of the half," Aggies coach Gary Blair said. "It was poor coaching on my part that we didn't go for the last shot."

Burrell said she knew the game shifted at that moment: "It was a great feeling."

Her return in Sunday's road win at Arkansas proved a positive for the Lady Vols. The challenge now will be to integrate Burrell into a rotation that has become pretty solid, but they know it's worth the work.

"Rae has always been a high-energy player," Tennessee coach Kellie Harper said. "She's always on the go. She came in and gave us a bump. Her knocking down that shot got the crowd into it."

Jordan Horston scored 10 of her 18 points in that pivotal second quarter, when Tamari Key had eight as the lead grew to 42-28 by halftime. Horston finished with 13 rebounds and Key had 11 blocks, one shy of the program record.

"I knew I had a lot, but I wasn't aware the record was 12," Key said. "We were able to get a lot of points off our defense."

That defense was pretty impressive. The Aggies came into the game hitting 42% of their 3-pointers, best in the country. They shot 4-for-5 from behind the arc in the first quarter, then were 0-for-9 the rest of the way. Overall, they were 26% (17-of-66) from the field.

"Sometimes the ball doesn't go in," Blair said. "It was a bad night. We've had too many of them lately. We have to make some corrections, starting with the head coach."

Destiny Pitts scored 12 points to lead Texas A&M, Kayla Wells added 11 and Qadashah Hoppie had 10.

Tennessee's Horston was back in the lineup for the second straight game after missing two games with an illness that was not COVID-19. Besides the points and rebounds, she was excited she had just one turnover - a stat that has plagued her.

"I'm taking baby steps," she said. "You got a chance to see how we can play together."

Harper said when Horston is "more aggressive on offense, her turnovers go down. The more active we get her, the better she will be."

Blair was blunt about Horston's skills: "She can fill up the stat sheets. I don't have a player like that."

Tennessee's next game is at 1 p.m. Eastern on Sunday at Ole Miss (13-1, 1-0).