NASHVILLE-- Looking for a team to project deep into your office pool bracket? Look no further than the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
In front of a fierce, sold-out Memorial Gym crowd, Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs took every shot Vanderbilt fired and posted a 72-69 victory Saturday, one that was not over until a fullcourt, desperation pass from Vanderbilt was batted away as time expired.
"I thought the atmosphere for this game was just terrific, and it was a great college basketball game," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, whose team could have ended all NCAA bubble talk with a victory. "Both teams played hard. We just came out on the wrong end."
Mississippi State now stands at 23-2 and 12-2 in the Southeastern Conference. Even more impressive for the Bulldogs is their 11-0 road mark. As the saying goes, you don't play any NCAA Tournament games at home, and that is just fine with Mississippi State.
"There are two things you need to do on the road to win," Stansbury said. "You need to defend and rebound, and in the second half, we did both."
SEC Player of the Year candidate Lawrence Roberts went toe-to-toe with Freije, scoring 18 points and grabbing 14 boards, including 11 in the second half. He had help from Timmy Bowers (16 points), Winsome Frazier (15) and Branden Vincent (12).
Bowers made the basket of the game with 2:11 to play. His acrobatic, twisting drive gave MSU a 67-61 lead, and Vanderbilt never had the ball with a chance to tie until just 0.7 seconds remained-- and the Dores had to go fullcourt.
The first half was a high-energy shootout, with Vanderbilt connecting on 8-of-12 3-pointers and Mississippi State nailing 6-of-10. Bowers' buzzer-beating tip gave the Bulldogs a 43-42 lead at the break.
"I didn't think that either team would shoot (in the second half) like they had in the first half," Stallings said. "The defenses tightened up. The second half was played down in the trenches and they were just better than us down there."
Vanderbilt never led in the final 19 minutes of the game, but was always within striking distance. Jason Holwerda tied things 55-55 with 8:50 to play, but Mississippi State stood strong and eventually pulled away.
"They will be 8-8 at worst and that will get them in," Stansbury said. "They can relax."
Bill Trocchi is online editor at Athlon Sports.