Dogs Overpower Commodore Defense 73-66

Rick Stansbury preaches about playing tough basketball. And this characteristic was certainly on display again as Mississippi State ground out a 73-66 win over visiting Vanderbilt. But the coach saw another dimension from his Dogs this time. "I thought we showed toughness in some other areas tonight," he said. "The second half we showed some offensive toughness."

The Bulldogs did just that, out-toughing the top scoring defense in the conference and best shooting defense in the nation en route to a crucial early-season victory. Or as point guard Dee Bost put it, "We got them in our type of game." A game that improved Mississippi State's record to 13-5 and continued a perfect start to SEC play, now at 3-0. This keeps the Dogs both atop the Western Division and in a tie with two East clubs for the overall league lead.

Vanderbilt left 12-5, 1-2 SEC, having lost for an eighth-straight trip to Humphrey Coliseum since 1995.

The game State played wasn't quite the same up-tempo style that started their ongoing five-win streak. But neither was it the grinding pace preferred by the Commodores. Instead the Dog found a groove that suited the situation nicely, when the transition baskets weren't there. "We like to spread teams out and get to the lane," explained Bost. "I felt we had mis-matches so we got to the lane and created shots for each other."

And scored them at a 64% pace in the second half, against a Commodore defense that came in allowing a NCAA-best 36% shooting for the season. State also scored 41 points in the second period, impressive considering foes have averaged just 58 points for whole games versus Vanderbilt.

"Again we just found ways," said Stansbury, who set the program record for SEC victories with the 90th of his 12-year career. "We have a lot more versatility, a lot more guys that can do more things from a standpoint of making shots. And we have a point guard that has the ability to do a little bit of all of it."

Freshman Bost did that, scoring 16 points—half on free throws—with six assists, five rebounds, and a couple of steals. And, a single turnover in his 35 minutes working against the league's premier defense. That epitomized the tough-mindedness MSU showed their coach.

"You always think about defense and rebounding," he said. "I thought the toughness came on the offensive end. Vanderbilt is leading the nation in field goal defense, the second half we shoot 64% and for the game we shot 48%. And another tough area, we shoot 22 free throws and make 18 of them. That's a huge stat." Particularly because Vanderbilt, nearly-mythical over the SEC-ages for production at the charity stripe, were just 5-of-8 this night.

Bost didn't have to do all the scoring, or even the most. Backcourt partners Ravern Johnson and Phil Turner accounted for 18 and 14 points with six treys between them. His previous two outings wingman Johnson played a supporting role with single-digit outputs, but when Vanderbilt was a step slow getting to him the soph was ready and willing to fire.

"The last two games everybody was on and I wasn't really in the groove, so I settled down and played good defense. But tonight we needed somebody to step up, I wanted to be that guy so I did." Meanwhile Turner was the guy State has come to expect since the soph moved into the starting lineup seven games ago, doing something of everything and often at the decisive situations. Such as late in the game when Vanderbilt twice pulled within two possessions, only to have Turner make a stop or a shot or just disrupt the VU plans.

"He's helter-skelter," Stansbury acknowledged, but "he has the quickness to make a play. And he jumped up and made a couple of threes that got us going, too. Defensively he got some deflections that were huge." Such efforts helped State overcome the absence of center Jarvis Varnado for 15 first-half minutes as he sat down after drawing a second fast foul. The junior would play the entire second period and net eight points with three blocks.

"The second half they made some tough shots," said Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings. "And I thought there were times we defended them really well and they still made them. To start the second half I think they scored 15 points in the first four minutes, 15 seconds."

Vanderbilt did work their high-low theme nicely in the opening minutes, with four different ‘Dores scoring on layups and short jumpers to take a 10-4 lead. For their part the Bulldogs also stayed relatively close to the goal, not throwing up a trey-try until 15:49. It was by Stewart, and good, though the Dogs would miss the next three arc-attempts and Vanderbilt even dropped into a zone for a short stretch.

Before the first media break center A.J. Ogily's agility drew the second foul on Varnado. He sat, but it wasn't a very good swap for Vanderbilt as backup post Elgin Bailey powered for consecutive buckets, then tied it up on free throws at 11:06. "They're a great defensive team," Bailey said. "I just had to bring my toughness. Instead of going around them I had to go through them." The ‘Dores eased back ahead by four, only to have Johnson chop a fast three off that by striking from the corner.

The Bulldogs were also fortunate that Vanderbilt didn't make much advantage of Varnado's absence, throwing up a couple of trey-tries that missed and committing three unforced turnovers. So when Bost drew a shooting foul and converted State was ahead 21-20. "Elgin kind of wore their big man down, and they just started shooting up shot they don't normally shoot," Bost said. Thus everything went wrong for the ‘Dores in the next three minutes, such as when Brian Johnson missed his second free chance. State recovered the carom, Bost drove for the basket, foul, and three-point play. He came back with another aggressive run through the lane that put the Dogs out in front 29-22.

Even when Vandy finally got a long shot to fall, by guard Brad Tinsley, it didn't help as Turner answered. Consecutive turnovers kept the visitors from getting closer than 32-27 at intermission.

Varnado was back to open the new half and made his presence known immediately with a basket, followed by a R.Johnson three. "Coach in the locker room said don't let up, we've still got twenty minutes left," Bost said. "So we tried to come out strong and have the momentum." But Vanderbilt steadied and scored on three-straight trips to make it a 37-35 difference with the ball. After a turnover, Turner fired on first-look and was good for three. Varnado hooked around Ogilvy and Johnson hit again from the right corner to force a Commodore clock-stop. Yet resumption of play only saw Bost convert a steal into a layup, then Johnson hit a runner in the lane for a 51-38 Bulldog advantage at thirteen minutes.

State's lead grew to 14 points after another Johnson bomb and backup forward Romero Osby half-hook. Vanderbilt had a run left in them with three-straight scores, one a trey by Tinsley, that made it 60-51. Ogilvy couldn't get one to drop, and State slowed the pace to set up Varnado one-on-one. The big Dog worked around his counterpart for a looper and 11-point cushion. Turner got an official to see a charge-block decision his way and made the free throws, following later with a dunk off Bost's inbounds pass for a 66-55 scoreboard.

The last Commodore gasp came as guard Jermaine Beal made it 68-62 with 1:51 left. It was left to MSU's Barry Stewart this time to squelch a rally, and when State stretched the perimeter coverage wide enough the guard was able to drive into range for a pullup-pop at 1:16. In the final minute Beal tried hard to take over, and while he hit one jumper he couldn't get the right bounce on a long shot as the Dogs made enough free pitches to keep control.

"We finished strong, we hit our free throws, and we just played our hearts out to the end," Bost said. For his part Stewart said Varnado's absence wasn't the factor some would have feared, even though the pre-game emphasis had been on working the ball inside. "The gameplan was the same when he went out, we just said one of those guys has to step up. And they did that."

There were more ‘Dores than Dogs in double-digits, led by forward Jeffrey Taylor with 18 points. Ogilvy and Beal each contributed 14 and Tinsley finished with a dozen markers. While their defense wasn't up to season-par Vanderbilt did hit the boards effectively with 37 rebounds—13 offensive—to 28 for the home team. But 17 turnovers, almost as many unforced as coaxed, minimized other advantages.

Stansbury made modest on questions about the SEC wins record. "You know where that was on my thoughts," he said, adding "It means I've been very blessed to be able to coach a lot of good players. And I've had good assistant coaches. That's where it starts at." Now the Bulldogs want to continue the perfect pace they've started. But the coming week brings a couple of road-challenges as State visits Louisiana State for Wednesday and are at Georgia this weekend.

"We did what we have to do to take care of home," Stansbury said. "Now we've got to go on the road for two games."


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