"Today I came with the mindset I had to do something, to just try to help the team," Turner said. Which he did in other ways, getting to five rebounds and handing off a pair of assists in his 21 total minutes. Being Phil of course he offered some trademark out-of-control plays, such as a couple of missed very-long shots when they were not really called for; or the attempt to dunk over two bigger ‘Dores that only brought a charging call.
But then that is the point of Turner's style, with the good plays outnumbering the bad and always putting a little extra snap in State's step. "He's kind of a wild card," Stansbury said.
DEEE-FENSE: That's not just on offense, either. Turner's comfort with working just about any spot on the floor allows him to defend bigger men himself…or in this game's special case to help out with covering VU postman A.J. Ogilvy. "We were able to mix it up and double that post," said Stanbury, which also allowed center Jarvis Varnado to give a little extra room in the paint and avoid the sort of foul trouble agile centers often create for him.
Turner wasn't the only swingman doubling down on Ogilvy or his alternate Festus Ezeli. Forwards Kodi Augustus and Romero Osby took their turns too, meaning this time Vanderbilt was not going to beat the Bulldogs physically as the did on their own court February 3. But all gave most credit to the big Dog who was central to their defensive plans on Ogilvy.
"All I can say is, Jarvis," Osby said. "We helped him but at the same time he had him one-on-one a lot tonight. The first game up there he got him in foul trouble but Jarvis stood his ground and played big. He's the real reason why we won." And, why a all-league veteran like Ogilvy who had scored 51 points in three prior games against State managed only two free throws the fourth time around. He had more turnovers than points in fact and was reduced to NBA-style traveling in the lane that didn't pass purview of the SEC's refs.
"I think Jarvis did start to get into his head," Osby said.
AND, MORE DEEE-FENSE: Stansbury said State's plans gambled on doubling Ogilvy and single-covering shooters Jermaine Beal and John Jenkins. "Beal hurt us the first time," said the coach. "He got 11 today but he never gook over the game. We took our chances with Walker and Taylor." Good ones as it turned out.
This meant senior guard Barry Stewart was expected to do his usual man-on defensive job against the other side's top gunner, and maybe a little more this time. Much of the afternoon this meant hounding hotshot VU freshman Jenkins who had clinched Friday's win over Georgia. Stewart said he relied on scouting comments; "I wasn't able to look at film or anything. They let me know he went off for 15 the second half."
Not this day. Jenkins had a quiet seven points Saturday on 3-of-6 shooting, making his only three-point try. He didn't get any more because Stewart did not just guard Jenkins, he prevented the pass arriving in the first place more often than not. Part of it was Stewart's home-state pride in covering a Gallatin native. "I'm from Tennessee," said Shelbyville product Stewart. "And I knew about him.
"I wanted to stay in into him and not let him get a good look at the basket. And I'm fortunate, he didn't score much." His coach might argue the ‘fortunate' bit. "There's not a better defensive two-guard than Barry Stewart," said Stansbury. It's because few shooters take as much pride in doing that job as State's senior does.
"I'm a competitor and the name of the game is making baskets. But I believe the most competitive people like to lock their man down and make baskets."
Stewart did make his baskets too, with a team best 14 points. And he added one trey to his school-record total in the process.
SUPPORTING CAST: It's been an erratic season for Bulldog backups, who in the regular schedule contributed less than 15% of the team's scoring in SEC games. But against Florida, Turner and Osby had 11 combined points; and today they scored 16 more.
"Our bench was good for us again," Stansbury said. "We haven't been as consistent all year with that, but I've seen some emotion and energy. That's what you have to have in tournament play, we only go eight deep as it is so we need our bench."
While Turner came up big against Vanderbilt, Osby has been reliable in Nashville himself. He popped a pair of treys in State's first-half blitz of Florida and in the semifinals added another longball. This after he had five three-pointers in 16 regular-SEC-season games. And he hasn't missed from the arc here either.
"Me and Dee (Bost) have been working after practice on shots," Osby said. "I just finally got my confidence back and started knocking down shots and concentrating. I just knocked them down when I was open."
GRUDGE MATCH: As the coach said, "Now we can focus on Kentucky." Not that Stansbury needs to remind his team too much about the regular-season meeting where the #2 Wildcats escaped 81-75 in overtime at Humphrey Coliseum.
"We remember them from last time," said Coach Phil Cunningham who was in charge of scouting Kentucky in their Saturday semifinal. "It's going to be a late night. But that's a good problem to have."
Kentucky is playing for the putative #1 overall national seed and looked like top Kats in routing Tennessee 74-45 prior to MSU's game. "We saw a little bit of it," said Varnado. "They're one of the best teams in the country. When they came to our place we had them but they slipped out or our hands. We want this rematch and we'll be ready for it."
Ravern Johnson is certainly ready. He missed the home game with Kentucky, suspended for attitude reasons. His perimeter presence could well have tipped the balance the Bulldogs' way that night and not a few have pointed it out since.
"I'm just going to be ready to play," Johnson said. "I'm going to be out there with the team fighting, helping them any way I can. This would be a big win for us."
One advantage to playing in Nashville for the Bulldogs has been a good contingent of fans, outnumbering the handful of Gator folk who came to the tournament and comparing reasonably well even with home-town Vanderbilt. But Sunday will be a whole ‘nother matter as the legendary Wildcat fan base has turned Nashville blue.
Stansbury says this is an obvious benefit for the Wildcats, but energy is energy and there is no reason State can't borrow some. The trick is not getting caught-up in the atmosphere. "We have to control what's between those lines. And that's our toughest challenge. No question this place will be packed with them, but use it to our advantage, too. We have to find a way to do that." One way being, he suggested only half in-jest, is for fans of Vanderbilt and Tennessee who still have tickets to use them Sunday. And not as neutral observers, either.
"We need them cheering for us. Tennessee fans will be if they don't go home."