No. 18 Vanderbilt 75, Mississippi St. 72

The Vanderbilt Commodores are really comfortable playing at home

in Memorial Gym. Against Mississippi State on Wednesday night, they

almost got too cozy.

Jermaine Beal scored 17 points, and No. 18 Vanderbilt held off

the Bulldogs 75-72 on Wednesday night, the Commodores’ 11th win in

12 games.

“That was a little more interesting at the end than we wanted

it to be,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.

Vanderbilt (17-4, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) bounced back

after losing their first league game last weekend at then-No. 1

Kentucky. The Commodores had been on the road for four of the first

six games in SEC play, and they looked very happy to be back home

before a sold-out crowd where they hadn’t lost this season.

But this hasn’t been an easy series for the Commodores with

Mississippi State having won seven of the past 10.

The Bulldogs (16-6, 4-3) almost did it again, fighting back from

a 14-point deficit to get within 73-72 with 28.6 seconds left on a

3-pointer by Dee Bost. Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins made two free

throws with 6.8 seconds remaining, then Bost missed a 3 before

Romero Osby of the Bulldogs missed two free throws with 1 second

left.

“We had some dumb plays, but at the same time they were making

shots,” Beal said. “We have a lot of improvement that we can work

on in that area.”

Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said his Bulldogs never

panicked because it doesn’t take long to catch up these days,

especially with the Bulldogs hitting an SEC-best nine 3s per

game.

“We never gave up. When it comes down to one play on the road –

winning or losing – as a coach you’ll take that. We just couldn’t

make the right play at the right time,” Stansbury said.

A.J. Ogilvy added 16 points for Vanderbilt, while Jenkins had 12

and Brad Tinsley 11. The Commodores are 6-1 in SEC play for the

first time since 1992-93.

Jarvis Varnado had 12 points, 14 rebounds and nine blocks –

seven in the second half – for the Bulldogs. Kodi Augustus had 15

points, Barry Stewart 13 and Bost 12. Varnado and Stewart set the

school record by playing in their 127th game. The Bulldogs have

lost three of four.

“He has really good timing,” Ogilvy said of Varnado, a

Tennessee native. “Long arms, sees the ball really well and he is

able to block a lot of shots.”

The Bulldogs brought in the nation’s third-stingiest scoring

defense, holding opponents to 36.5 percent shooting. Vanderbilt

features the SEC’s best shooters in league play, and the Commodores

shot 44.6 percent despite going cold late, not scoring from the

field after Festus Ezeli’s dunk with 4 minutes left.

The Commodores did hit 4 of 6 at the free throw line to preserve

the win.

Stallings said his team committed 11 different mistakes as they

started playing not to lose.

“We got tentative with the basketball and got careless with our

passes and had our turnovers. We just had no flow going on

offense,” he said.

Jenkins made what he called a freshman mistake at the end. He

was supposed to dribble back out, trying to run out the clock.

“It won’t happen again,” Jenkins said.

Vanderbilt led 38-31 at halftime and led twice by 14 points –

matching the Bulldogs’ biggest deficit this season. Beal’s bucket

matched the Commodores’ biggest lead at 69-55 with 4:40 left.

That’s when Stewart got going, scoring the next 11 points for the

Bulldogs including three 3s.

“The crowd got quiet, they got on the edge of their seats,”

Stewart said of his spurt. “It felt good. But unfortunately we

didn’t pull it off.”

Bost hit the first of two free throws to pull Mississippi State

within 73-69 with 1:27 remaining. Varnado got the rebound, but

Stewart missed a jumper with 1:11 to go. Bost stole the ball from

Beal, then came down and hit a 3 from the right corner with 28

seconds left to trim the lead to 73-72.

That was as close as they could get.

Vanderbilt looked ready to blow out the Bulldogs in the opening

minutes, jumping out 9-3 lead. Mississippi State settled down, and

the teams gave a glimpse of the furious finish with six ties and

six lead changes. The last tie came at 29 when Phil Turner scored

on a putback with 4:04 left.