Ready was not the first offensive option there with a 52-52 deadlock. State had rallied in the second half more on free throws than anything else. Center Gavin Ware was muscling for post position, creating room for guard Craig Sword to slash the baseline.
But when Vanderbilt sagged and left Ready all by his lonesome on the left wing, Sword gave the ball right back. “Shoot it, that’s it!” Ready said. “Just being aggressive. Nothing spectacular.”
If not spectacular to one Dog it was still a pretty special moment for all of ‘em. The win was Mississippi State’s first regular-season SEC success since last January 22. Though, that team did get a SEC Tournament win, against Vanderbilt as well. Still, ending a 16-game skid of nearly a year’s length mattered. Lots.
“Hoooo, thank God,” guard Fred Thomas said. “That’s what we needed. A win to build our confidence back up.”
The win makes State 8-9, 1-3 SEC. The Commodores left 11-6, 1-3 as well.
They also left wondering exactly what happened. How, after leading 26-18 at halftime, they were caught and passed by a struggling State squad desperate for anything positive to happen. What the Dogs did though was make it happen themselves.
Down 33-25 in the second period, the Bulldogs responded with eight impressive minutes on defense and aggressive work on offense. State somehow managed to contain both ends of Vanderbilt’s attack, doubling-up on post Damian Jones as needed but still getting a hand in—as well as on since it was a loosely-called contest—guard Riley LaChance.
On the stat sheet it seemed the Commodores didn’t care. Jones had 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting while LaChance scored 12. However, neither could take over for any significant stretch.
“They put you in a bind,” Coach Rick Ray said. “But you have to help on Jones some way. We combatted that with our pressure.” In half-court he meant. With Ware and freshman post Oliver Black staying put in the paint the perimeter Dogs managed to stay on the shooters no matter how the ball moved.
And when Vanderbilt missed, often, State was ready to run with the rebound. Which Dogs got in startling stats of 41 boards for the home team, just 28 for the bigger ‘Dores. Ready, Sword and Thomas took advantage in transition which didn’t often net field goals but did draw a lot of fouls. And unlike the Tennessee loss, this time State was 20-of-27 at the stripe.
“Coach told me to push the tempo so every time I get it I’m trying to run,” Ready said. “Fred and Chicken (Sword) and Travis (Daniels) did a good job getting it going.” Seven points of State’s game-changing 19-5 run came on free throws earned by pushing the pace.
“They played with more urgency in the second half,” VU Coach Kevin Stalling said. “I thought they were the aggressor. They were playing more physically and harder than we were, even though we were still ahead.”
Vanderbilt was ahead despite not shooting well all afternoon, a bit either side of 38% in both halves. State was worse at 35% for the first period but by virtue of a 23-11 rebound margin were not knocked of it. Even deficits of nine and eight points early in the last period failed to depress the Dogs this time. Plus, as Ray reminded, “We wanted to pressure them in the first half but got in foul trouble and had to be careful. In the second half our pressure bothered them a little.”
Not in turnovers. Vanderbilt had just seven total, to 17 by the home team with several forced on in-bounds plays with Ready covered by long-and-lanky Luke Kornet. Once the Bulldog defense frustrated VU into misses though everything changed. The offensive turning point was a four-point play by Thomas, fouled as his high-arching trey dropped at 13:57.
A series later Thomas made it a one-point deficit with free throws, and at 12:19 Ware’s two charity chips put State ahead for the first time all afternoon. Vanderbilt hung close enough that when Dogs forced a couple of shots or turned the ball over the visitors could catch up. LaChance got in the lane for a foul and tying free throws at 1:27.
Which only set up Ready’s response as Sword kicked the pass back to him. “We set it up,” Ray said. “I’m glad he didn’t hesitate.”
Vanderbilt did not play for a tie; LaChance missed in the lane and Jones settled for a slam at 0:13. The inbounds was tipped but Ready ran it down and kept his feet in-bounds too. “I used to play football!” he said. His free throws made for the final margin because Wade Baldwin’s corner-trey missed. Of course as Ray said, his team had been trying to foul before the shot and he was sure Sword did.
Ready had 11 points and Thomas ten, nothing like the leading ‘Dore scorers. But he said “Everybody scored that played. We shared the ball and moved the ball.” Ware had seven points with 13 rebounds, 11 of them off Vanderbilt misses.
“We turned the ball over some and they got offensive rebounds,” Stallings said. “We didn’t do anything particularly well today.”
The Bulldogs did not do much to call great on the stat sheet. The effort, that was excellent and for a full forty minutes this time. Ray thought he’d seen his team take “a huge step” in Tuesday’s loss at Texas A&M, yet worried about carry-over.
“I’m glad it did pay off because we needed that victory and our guys needed to experience some success,” he said.
Even if that re-tip (the opening tip-off was tied up by Kornet and Ready) didn’t work, Mississippi State eventually was successful. Yes, Ready had done this before. “Back in high school.”