Mississippi St. 62, No. 20 Vanderbilt 52
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury is looking for some
bandwagon fans to support the Bulldogs in their second consecutive
SEC tournament championship game.
The Bulldogs will need all the help they can get when they face
a No. 2 Kentucky team looking for its first tournament crown since
2004 on Sunday in an arena that’s become the Wildcats’ home away
Mississippi State didn’t need the extra boost in the 62-52 win
over No. 20 Vanderbilt on Saturday that advanced it to the
Southeastern Conference title game.
“Big Blue, as you well know, they’re going to travel. No
question the place will be packed with them,” Stansbury said. “I
would hope all those (other) fans that are still left here – we
need all those fans for us. Vanderbilt, we need all those fans,
Barry Stewart scored 14 points and Dee Bost, Phil Turner and
Jarvis Varnado each added 11 for the Bulldogs, who won four
straight games in the 2009 tournament for their first title in
seven years. They received a first-round bye this time after
sharing the SEC West Division crown with Mississippi, a team they
beat twice this season.
Mississippi State entered the tournament low on quality wins,
but victories over Florida and Vanderbilt could be enough to seal a
spot in the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t know what it is about this team, but when our backs
are against the wall, we’re at our best. I guess that’s a good
thing,” Stewart said.
Jermaine Beal scored 11 for Vanderbilt (24-8), which was hoping
to reach the SEC tournament championship game for only the second
time. The Commodores made the final and won in 1951 and have lost
two other times in the semifinals since the league split into
divisions in 1992.
With a 33-29 lead just after halftime, Mississippi State went on
an 11-0 run. Kodi Augustus blocked a shot by Vanderbilt’s Jeffery
Taylor, and Bost made a fast-break layup to give the Bulldogs a
44-29 lead with 17:13 left.
Stansbury said his team learned plenty of lessons from
Mississippi State’s 75-72 loss Feb. 3 to Vanderbilt, namely to
limit A.J. Ogilvy in the post and Beal and John Jenkins on the
Ogilvy had only two free throws, and Jenkins scored seven points
after having a career-high 25 in the Commodores’ quarterfinal win
over Georgia. Beal was four points below his average.
Vanderbilt started to show signs of life when a three-point play
by Taylor and a 3 by Brad Tinsley launched a 10-0 run. After a pair
of free throws by Varnado, Tinsley sank another 3 to cut
Mississippi State’s lead to 51-48 with 5:37 left.
The Bulldogs clamped down on defense and answered with a 9-1 run
to seal the win.
“I thought we were all the way back in the game, but at the end
of the game Mississippi State made some shots, and we came down and
missed some shots and some free throws,” Beal said.
The Commodores have eked out wins in close games by taking
control of the foul line. Entering the game, they had hit an
SEC-leading 72.9 percent of their free-throw attempts and reached
the line an average 26 times per game. Against Mississippi State,
they went 10 of 17.
Mississippi State, which shot 57.1 percent in the quarterfinals
against Florida, shot only 37.5 percent before halftime. Festus
Ezeli hit a layup off a missed 3-pointer by Andre Walker to cut the
Bulldogs’ lead to 25-22 with 6:25 left in the half, but the
Commodores entered a 4 1/2 minute drought, committing three fouls
and four turnovers in the stretch.
“I thought our defense was good enough to win the game, but
offensively we were never able to find a rhythm,” Commodores coach
Kevin Stallings said. “We couldn’t get any baskets, couldn’t get
to the foul line.”
Even though the tournament is being played in Vanderbilt’s
hometown, the Commodores’ numbers were nearly matched in the stands
by Mississippi State fans and far exceeded by the presence of
Kentucky fans, who hung around to watch after their Wildcats routed
No. 15 Tennessee 74-45.
“We’re going to play like they’re cheering for us out there,”
Stansbury said of the Kentucky fans. “That’s the only way you can
look at it. We understand what we’re up against.”