"We needed to come out there with great energy to bounce back after that tough loss against South Carolina," said DeMarre Carroll. "This was a big game. Everybody knew that in their minds… Coach preached to us that this would be a big game, a big-time game on TV."
The contest seems even more important in the context of the Commodores' upcoming schedule. "This one was really important," said Dan Cage, "and we stressed that in our preparation for today. A loss today was not an option. We needed to get back on track and get our momentum again. We have a pretty good couple of opponents coming up here, with Florida and Tennessee in a week or so. We need to get our chemistry back and start having some fun again before we go and play someone like Florida."
Mississippi State started the game in a zone defense, and the Commodores decided that they wanted to pick up the pace. The decision came from the coaching staff, but it was also clear that the players were eager to play a little bit looser. Cage, who contributed 11 points off the bench, spoke after the game about how the faster pace helped the Commodores:
"When you have athletes like DeMarre, Shan, Derrick, Mo, and you know our big men run pretty well, I think it goes to our advantage when we run the ball a little bit before the defense gets set, especially when they're trying to set up a 2-3 zone. In the first half we get down there and they're not completely set, and we're able to catch them off guard. This is a little bit different Vanderbilt team than maybe it has been in recent years."
Vanderbilt was scoring well, but the Bulldogs kept themselves in the game until Shan Foster scored on a magnificent alley-oop dunk that brought Memorial to its feet. The atmosphere was electric, and Memorial Magic seemed to rattle the team from Mississippi State. In the possessions that followed, the Bulldogs repeatedly turned the ball over, and the Commodores capitalized with excellent passing to set up high percentage shots. By halftime, the Commodores had leapt out to a lead that exceeded 20 points, and the fans began to relax just a little bit.
The Commodores, however, were not about to relax. Not after the South Carolina game. "That South Carolina game was a tough loss, but we learned a lot from that game," said DeMarre Carroll, who led the team in scoring with a career-high 18 points. "In the second half, we wanted to come out there and bury them. We had that ‘killer mentality.'"
Mississippi State tried to turn things around, but Vanderbilt's intensity was too much to overcome. The lead consistently remained more than 15 points, and Vanderbilt cruised to an 80-52 win. This was the first time that Mississippi State had been dominated throughout an entire game in quite a while, according to MSU's Head Coach Rick Stansbury.
The game can actually be summarized fairly well by statistics. Vanderbilt had 5 players scoring in double digits – MSU had just one (Charles Rhodes). Vanderbilt had 25 assists on 30 made field goals, while MSU turned the ball over more times than they made a shot (21 to 18). Jamont Gordon was one of the most productive MSU players (with 5 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 steals), but even Gordon's stat line looks bad. He was 2-for-13 from the field, 0-for-5 from the perimeter, collected four fouls, and turned the ball over nine times. Coach Stansbury commented that Gordon was asked to play small forward in this game, but his more comfortable position in the offense might be point guard. Jamall Edmondson, making his first start at the point, lacked the quickness needed to be effective on the offensive end.
Several players could make a case to be Vanderbilt's MVP for this game. Shan Foster had 13 points on only 6 shots, while collecting 4 assists. Julian Terrell led the team with 8 assists and 9 rebounds. But in the minds of most, DeMarre Carroll ran away with the show. Despite playing only 18 minutes – that's right, 18 minutes – DeMarre scored 18 points, 3 rebounds, and an assist without a single turnover. The only Commodore more efficient than DeMarre in terms of points/minute was Aubrey Hammond, who made his only shot (a two point basket) in his only minute of play.
While DeMarre collects the MVP award for the game.