MSU men's basketball team (23-7, 10-6 SEC) defeated USC, 64-57, in Columbia to earn the Western number 2 seed in the SEC Tournament. MSU will face the Auburn/Florida winner at 7:30 p.m. (ET) Friday night.

Official game story...

Players and coach quotes are in the premium section of this article."> MSU men's basketball team (23-7, 10-6 SEC) defeated USC, 64-57, in Columbia to earn the Western number 2 seed in the SEC Tournament. MSU will face the Auburn/Florida winner at 7:30 p.m. (ET) Friday night.

Official game story...

Players and coach quotes are in the premium section of this article.">

MSU defeats USC at Columbia for 23rd win

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01filepicture/mbasketball.jpg" align="left" width="145" height="148"> MSU men's basketball team (23-7, 10-6 SEC) defeated USC, 64-57, in Columbia to earn the Western number 2 seed in the SEC Tournament. MSU will face the Auburn/Florida winner at 7:30 p.m. (ET) Friday night.<P> <a href="http://www.mstateathletics.com/0,5604,1_25_0_11148,00.html">Official game story...</a><P> Players and coach quotes are in the premium section of this article.


Derrick Zimmerman Quotes:

The team didn't play that well during the first half, but came out in the second half and really turned it on. What were you guys thinking during the second half?
"We knew we were playing good in the first half but we just weren't shooting good. We were missing some easy shots. We were still playing good defense. They only had 28 points. I knew when we got our offense going in the second half that we would be fine."

Talk a little about the defense.
"That was one of the best defensive games as a team that we have played all year long. They had a lot going for them, it was Senior Night and the last game in that coliseum. We took their best player, Jamel Bradley, out of the game. I don't think he had a three. Timmy Bowers and Marckell Patterson did a great job on him. It was a great team effort."

Talk about the mood of the team on the trip back from the game. You guys are the hottest team in the SEC right now.
"We are very confident right now, but not where we will look past a team. We know what is at stake for us at the SEC Tournament. We, basically, are trying to improve everyday."

One of the things that you are trying to do now is get a better seeding in the NCAA Tournament.
"That is it."

You have to very extremely proud of the accomplishments of this team. You guys now have won 23 games, which is just one short of the MSU regular-season record for most wins in a season.
"I am so proud of this team because we have come together so well. Night in, night out, someone is making the big play. To win in this league, you have to play together as a team. No one individual can win by themselves. This season have been a big accomplishment for us. Not many people expected much out of us this season. We knew, coming into the season, that we were going to be good. We were confident in our ability and knew as long as we put in the hard work that we would be fine."


Ontario Harper Quotes:

It almost seems like you have ice water in your veins because you appear to be so calm when on the court. You have stepped up and made the big shot so often this year. You made all four of your shots today, including a crucial three-pointer near the end of the game today. Talk about that.
"I don't feel pressure out there. When they give me shots in my comfort zone all I have to do is wait for one of our players to kick it to me and all I have to do is make my shot."

Coming out of high school, you had a reputation as a great player who was a great athlete but you lacked one thing and that was a consistent outside shot. Now you are one of the best three-point shooters on the team. What have you done to make yourself into such a good shooter?
"Over the summer, I knew that if I wanted to be good, the part of my game that I needed to improve was my shooting, so I came to Coach Jones and he worked with me the entire summer."

Do you now feel like you can make every three-point shot that you take?
"I'm like this, if it is not a good shot then I'm not going to take it. That is why I always think I am going to make it."

What was the mood of the team after the victory against South Carolina?
"It was really high. Everybody, including the coaches, didn't think we would be focused, but we took it upon ourselves to make sure we were focused."

You were down in the first half and came on like gang-busters in the second half. Did something happen at halftime to cause the change?
"The only thing that was happening in the first half was we were taking good shots but they weren't going in. We knew we were playing good defense. Coach just told us to continue to play with the same intensity on defense and our shots would eventually fall."


Assistant Coach Phil Cunningham Quotes:

This was such a huge win today. Talk about the importance of it.
"There were a lot of things stacked against us, but the one thing we told our kids was, 'you had the same scenario Wednesday night, although you were at home.' If you asked everybody who would win the game Wednesday because of all the emotion involved with the Nolan (Richardson) situation. Plus, we were coming off the victory over Ole Miss and felt that we were in the NCAA Tournament. We could have easily been content with that, but we weren't and beat Arkansas. So we told our kids we were in the same situation. It is the final game in the Carolina Coliseum, Senior Day, we are in the (NCAA) Tournament and they are fighting for their life to make the Tournament. All the intangibles were on their side but we found a way to win. This team has 3 road wins in this league and know it should have been 4 (LSU)."

I talked to Ontario Harper and asked him what has caused his improvement in his outside shooting. Talk about his outside shooting.
"You know, it is interesting, for the last three Thursday's we have taken our top six guys and let them practice light that day. We take our other guys and let them have a substitute scrimmage to help keep them in shape. Harp, last Thursday, lite it up during the scrimmage. And they were playing their butts off, they even went double overtime. Yes, he is athletic and he does things off the dribble and plays good defense, but he has stepped up and is shooting the ball. Those threes he hit today were huge. One was, basically, the game-winner. You were calling him ice earlier, he really does have that kind of demeanor where he is very even-keeled, never gets up too high or down too low. You love guys like that, you needs guys like that. He is going to be a great basketball player for us in the future."

It seems like the team played better in the second half than in the first. Did you coaches make some kind of adjustments to help the players play better in the second half?
"Here is something about South Carolina that you don't know about them unless you dig deep into their stats. They are leading the league in scoring defense, meaning when opponents play them they usually score around 60 points and about 50 in league play. But, even though they allow few points, teams shoot a high percentage against them. They are 11th in the league in defensive field goal percentage. What they do is they trap and gamble so much trying to make you turn it over. They lead the league in turnovers caused per game. During the first half, their style of defensively play worked against us. They held Alabama to 15 points in the first half a couple of weeks ago. They held us to 21, which is probably our season low. In the first half, we have 12 turnovers and all their trapping was working.

"I know the guys were probably expecting (Coach Stansbury) to come in and rip them at halftime, but he came in very positive and said that half is over with. Then he asked them if they had been double-teamed like that before and they all said yes. What he basically told them is they had been in that situation before, but they still have to go make plays. He asked a couple of them what would they do at the Sanderson Center in that same situation and they said they would beat the trap. I think he got them relaxed. I think their mentality the second half was they were going to beat the traps and they did it the entire second half. (South Carolina) continued to do all that trapping but we just kept our poise and only had five turnovers in the second half. That, along with making shots, were the differences in the game."

This team has 23 victories and play in the best conference in the country. What is making this MSU team so good?
"The thing that I can think of off the top of my head is the fact that we have a really good inside-outside combination. You have a point guard who is playing very, very well. He is going to lead the league in assists. He controls the game defensively. That is something you don't really think about sometimes. He wears the other point guards down. He gets steals. He blocks shots. Inside, you have Mario (Austin) who is one of the best players in the league. Then around them, you have everybody else playing their roles really well. You have Gholar who is a warrior on the boards. You have Patterson who can score and who is playing defense much better. Kel guarded Bradley part of the night and Bradley didn't hit a three all night. You have Iggy at the other forward spot and he is hitting shots for us and is a very good passer. You have Timmy Bowers playing great coming off the bench. You have Gardner who gives us quality minutes and who also gives Z time to rest. Then you have a guy like Harper coming in who seems to always play well. Plus, you have production from Marcus (Campbell) and Lincoln (Smith). And you have Roy Goffer playing quality minutes for us. This team has chemistry. The bottom line is this team wants to win."


Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.

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