Bulldogs Fall In SEC/Big East Invitational

CINCINNATI - Things got away from the Mississippi State men's basketball team late in the first half Thursday night. The Bulldogs gave up a half-ending 15-0 run and the Cincinnati Bearcats cruised from there, recording a 75-63 victory in the U.S. Bank Arena.

The contest was the opening game of a doubleheader at the SEC/Big East Invitational. The Southeastern Conference swept two games Tuesday night with Vanderbilt beating South Florida and Tennessee beating Marquette. Ole Miss and Louisville concluded this year's installment of the challenge by playing the second game in Thursday night's doubleheader.

Cincinnati improved to 8-2 with the victory. Meanwhile, MSU dropped to 7-4.

The Bulldogs, however, did not go down without a fight.

After sprinting to a 47-29 halftime advantage, the Bearcats tacked on the first four points of the final half. MSU then turned up the defensive pressure and ripped off a 19-4 run. Ravern Johnson and Dee Bost each rammed home 3-point baskets during that run. Jarvis Varnado also continued his monster night in the paint. Varnado hit a layup to cap the run, cutting the UC lead to 57-50 with 9:22 remaining.

The Bulldogs would get no closer than seven points on two occasions in the final half.

Varnado led the Bulldogs offensive attack with 24 points and six rebounds in 31 minutes of play. The nation's premier shot blocker also added four blocks. Phil Turner was the other Bulldog in double figures. Turner rammed home a pair of second-half 3-point baskets and finished with 12 points.

UC received a game-high 16 points from Deonta Vaughn. Also in double figures were Dion Dixon with 14 points, Yancy Gates with 12 points and Larry Davis with 12 points. Gates added a team-high nine rebounds.

The teams were close for most of the first half. The Bulldogs only held two leads in the game - at 6-5 and 16-15. That final lead came after a 6-0 run, which included a steal and layup by Turner. The Bulldogs closed within 29-27 on a putback with Varnado with 4:38 left in the half.

However after that made basket, it was all Bearcats. Cincinnati closed the half on a 15-0 run. That run included four different 3-point baskets. UC hit nine 3-pointers in the opening half - two better than a season average. The Bulldogs missed their final six shots from the field in the opening half.

For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 25 of 55 shots from the field (45.5 percent), 4 of 18 shots from 3-point range (22.2 percent) and 9 of 12 free throw attempts (75 percent). The Bearcats hit 25 of 56 shots from the field (44.6 percent), 12 of 27 shots from 3-point range (44.4 percent) and 13 of 21 free throw attempts (61.9 percent).

Cincinnati finished with a 41-27 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 11 assists and 13 turnovers, while the Bearcats had 20 assists and 15 turnovers.

MSU plays one final contest before breaking for the Christmas holidays. The Bulldogs play Nicholls State at 7 p.m. Monday night in the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at www.ticketmaster.com or by contacting the coliseum ticket office at 601-353-0603.

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