Bulldogs Punch Ticket To Big Apple

The Bulldogs are going to New York City…thanks to a man from Miami.

Winsome Frazier scored a game-high 18 points, including his team's last ten markers, to lead Mississippi State to a 55-48 victory over Birmingham-Southern in the regional final of the Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic. The win earned State (2-0) a trip to Madison Square Garden next week where the Bulldogs will meet Syracuse in one semifinal matchup on November 18.

As they prepare for the trip to New York, the Dogs can thank their senior guard for making the right baskets at the right time to secure the second-round win in Birmingham. "I didn't want to go home no time soon," Frazier said. "I wanted to get a victory."

Midway of Friday's second half Mississippi State was in danger of spending next week on the home court practicing instead of playing in the Big Apple. Hometown team BSC had just taken their first lead of the evening on a three-point basket at 10:15 by guard Bucky McMillan, making the score 38-37 in favor of the Panthers. The Bulldogs were still struggling to produce points against BSC's zone defensive schemes, and the frustration was obvious.

Enter Frazier, who had endured a rough 30 minutes to that point and made just two of his eight shots and missed all six three-point attempts. Cutting to the left baseline he got the pass from forward Shane Power, stop, spun, and lifted a turnaround jumper. It was good at 9:52, putting State back in front 39-38.

"I was focused on getting my team going, the best way possible," Frazier said.

Soon State's offense was going full-speed ahead thanks to intense defense. The Panthers had three shots at regaining the lead; all missed, and the Bulldogs began pushing the pace. At 7:54 guard Gary Ervin drew a foul and made both free throws for a 41-38 margin.

Suddenly the pressure was back on the other team, and Birmingham-Southern cracked. State extended the defense and created three quick turnovers. The first became a Frazier layup for a five-point lead, then after two more miscues Ervin kissed in a running bankshot. The Panthers missed a trey, Power rebounded and fed Frazier for another layup and foul. The three-point play capped a 11-0 run and gave State a 48-38 lead.

It was nothing less than what Coach Rick Stansbury expected. "Winsome is always going to play hard for you, and he played with great effort. And tonight he made some shots for us." The deciding shots, that is. The Panthers were able to claw within 48-44 with almost two minutes left for the upset, but after a BSC timeout Frazier got open on the right wing and drained his only trey of the evening, at 1:29. He added four more free throws to cap his evening and State's win. "I started feeling it," Frazier said. "My defense was already there but the adrenalin started flowing. The three-pointer is one of my threats but I had to turn it up inside."

Mississippi State had to turn it up somehow to avoid being knocked off, as the Panthers were not awed by the Dogs' #12 ranking. Former MSU aide Duane Reboul threw a variety of zone-sets at a Dog team still missing all-America forward Lawrence Roberts, sidelined after Tuesday's surgery to repair a broken nose.

The result was a miserable night for State's big men, as centers Marcus Campbell, Welsey Morgan, and Walter Sharpe, who were a combined 0-of-3 shooting in 41 minutes. And for a second-straight game the Bulldog backcourt was unable to spread a defense out by hitting enough perimeter shots. "We got no point production inside," Stansbury said.

What the Dogs did get was reasonably effective defense against the Panthers' motion offense to begin the game, allowing State to build a 13-4 lead by 13:28. MSU's man-to-man disrupted ball movement on the perimeter and forced BSC to take low-percentage shots. The Panthers hit just two of their first 12 attempts.

Once Birmingham-Southern was able to work the ball inside, though, it was a different story and by 6:26 the lead was down to 13-10. State stemmed the surge by converting a couple of turnovers into easy baskets by Frazier, but the Panthers stayed in striking distance and trailed just 25-22 at intermission. They were helped by MSU's 3-of-12 inaccuracy on long shots over the zone.

"Give them some credit, they're a good team," Stansbury said. Fortunately, his team was better when it mattered most, especially on the defensive side of midcourt.

"Defense set the tone," Frazier said. "The tougher team sets the rules. We played a little sluggish in the first half, in the second half we came back and played with a lot of effort and discipline."

And Dog-ged defense finally was key to getting the MSU offense up to speed. "We changed, we picked it up and got some steals and easy baskets," Stansbury said. "When you're struggling in the half-court you have to find a way to try to change tempo. And we made some foul shots down the stretch." That, too, was a marked contrast to the first half and Thursday's game as well.

Ervin had 13 points and Power, scoreless in the opener, 10 more. Birmingham-Southern was led by James Collins with 14 points and Shem Mbyirukira with ten off the bench. But Jakob Sigurdarson, who had 24 points in beating Alabama A&M, was held to 2-of-13 shooting for just four points in 35 minutes. The Panthers shot only 33.3% overall and 4-of-20 from the arc.

Frazier hit four of his last six shots and all five free tosses, and the clutch offense earned the senior regional Most Valuable Player. His teammates didn't hesitate to tell Frazier to go for the goal down the stretch. "I told him shoot the ball, and at crunch he's going to knock it down," Ervin said.

Now Brooklyn boy Ervin gets to go home and take his whole team with him. Frazier was actually more relieved than glad, because he recalled how his sophomore season stopped on this same BJCC court in the 2003 NCAA Regional. "Some of the veterans knew that feeling, so I wanted to get a victory to take back."

The Bulldogs will leave for the Classic semifinal and consolation/championship rounds with a hopefully-full roster (pending Roberts' clearance at a Monday checkup), and two wins' worth of confidence. Stansbury agreed, neither victory in Birmingham was pretty and both were far closer than necessary.

"But at the same time we're proud to win these two games. Both these teams were picked to win their leagues, they're veteran teams. It was gutty efforts, both of them."

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