MSU Defeats No. 5 Ranked Oklahoma, 54-45

NEW ORLEANS - The 16th ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs, behind Mario Austin's 18 points, upended the number 5 ranked Oklahoma Sooners 54-45 in the Sugar Bowl Basketball Classic.

Both teams, in a defensive struggle, shot the ball poorly. Mississippi State, now 8-1 on the year after losing their first ballgame of the season, shot 36 percent from the field (18-of-50, 3-of-13 from 3-point range). However, the Bulldogs, shooting 65.5% from the free-throw line coming into the game, shot 15-of-19 (79%) from the line to seal the victory.

Oklahoma, now 6-2 on the year (both losses have been against SEC teams), fared even worse, shooting just 31 percent (17-of-54) from the field and 7-of-24 from 3-point range (29.1%). Coming into the game, Oklahoma had hit 34.7% of their three-point attempts and 46.6% from the field.

"They're probably one of the best defensive teams we've played against," Oklahoma's Hollis Price said.

Both teams came into the game after not having played for at least a week due to the Christmas holidays. Oklahoma last played seven days ago when they defeated Georgia State 89-62. Ironically, State's last opponent was also Georgia State, a team they defeated, 78-54, nine days ago in the Mississippi Coliseum at Jackson, Mississippi.

The first points of the game were made by Oklahoma's Ebi Ere at the 19:00 minute mark of the game.

The Bulldogs, after missing their first four shots of the game, made two free throws from Michal Ignerski to pull even with the Sooners.

Austin, at the 16 minute mark, scored a bucket to put the Bulldogs ahead 4 to 2.

The Sooners then went on a 8-0 run to go ahead 10-4 with 16 minutes left in the first half.

During the next minute, the Bulldogs went on a 5-0 run themselves to pull within one, 10-9.

Until the halftime buzzer, both teams traded baskets ending the first half in a 23-23 tie.

Ignerski led all scorers at the half with 9 points. Austin followed him with 7 points. Oklahoma was led in scoring by Ebi Ere's 5 points.

Turnovers plagued both teams during the first half. The Sooners turned the ball over 10 times and the Bulldogs 11.

In the second half, the Sooners, who made just 2-of-7 from three point range in the first half, started to inch ahead of the Bulldogs with their three-point shooting, making 3-of-4 in the first part of the second half, to go ahead of the Bulldogs 36-30 with 13 minutes to go.

However, the Bulldogs, seemingly turning their defense up a notch, began a run at that time that saw them take a 48-38 lead with 3:20 to go in the second half.

"Defensively, we turned it up a notch," said MSU assistant coach Phil Cunningham. "Our denfense wore their guards out. A guard that had been playing a lot of minutes for them, (De'Angelo) Alexander who was averaging about 20 minutes a game, only played 10. Blake Johnston, who was averaging about 15 minutes per game, played 2 minutes."

After not scoring a point in the first half, the Bulldog guards, Derrick Zimmerman, Timmy Bowers and reserve Winsome Frazier, led the charge during that 18-2 run. Zimmerman had 4 points, Bowers 3 and Frazier 2.

"(Oklahoma's) Price and White are one of the best defensive guard tandems in the nation," said Cunningham. "But Timmy made a big shot down the stretch."

The Sooners, with a little help from the Bulldogs who started getting careless with the ball, got an offensive rebound putback by Kevin Bookout to pull to within 8, with 3:00 left.

After Derrick Zimmerman missed the front end of a one-and-one for the Bulldogs, Hollis Price sank a 3-pointer for Oklahoma, then made two free throws to get to 48-45 with 1:23 remaining.

With the Bulldog crowd now a little worried, the Sooners fouled Austin after he made a jumper. Austin coolly stepped to the line and made the free throw to put the Bulldogs ahead by 6, 51-45, with 58 seconds to go in the game.

The Bulldog fans, now feeling their team had the game won, stood and began chanting "DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE".

The Bulldog defense responded.

The Sooners Ebe, with a Bulldog in his face, missed a three-pointer with 50 seconds on the clock. The Bulldogs grabbed the rebound and started down the court.

Zimmerman, held in check all day long by the Sooners' defense, slammed the ball in the basket to put the Bulldogs ahead 53-45.

The Sooners now down by 8 with just 42 seconds to go had no other recourse but to attempt outside jumpers. Their three final shots all missed their mark.

The Bulldogs' Austin ended the scoring, making one of two free throws to make the final score 54-45.

The Bulldog fans ended the day by chanting, "SEC, SEC, SEC".

Mario Austin led all scorers with 18 points. Michal Ignerski was also in double figures with 11 points for Mississippi State. The Bulldog starting guard tandem of Zimmerman and Bowers uncharacteristically shot the ball poorly, making just 4-of-17 from the field.

"They have a superstar in Austin, and their team knows who their meal ticket is," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "If you had told me before the game that we'd outrebound Mississippi State and hold Austin to 18, I would have thought we'd win."

Price led Oklahoma with 17 points. Oklahoma's front court which consisted of preseason All-American candidate Ebi Ere, had problems shooting and holding onto the ball, shooting 5-of-21 from the field and committing 9 turnovers.

"Ontario Harper played great defense against Ere," said Cunningham.

The Sooners had 17 turnovers to Mississippi State's 13 and outrebounded the Bulldogs 38-36.

Mississippi State has not lost since dropping the season opener. Among the Bulldog victims have been two teams ranked among the top 11 in the nation, Xavier ranked 11th when the Bulldogs faced them and the 5th ranked Sooners.

Next up for the Bulldogs is the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama, Monday at 7 p.m.


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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