State, which out rebounded Vanderbilt 41-30, quickly established the upper hand inside as Rhodes scored on two slam dunks to open up the scoring, giving the Bulldogs an early 4-0. In a game that seemed eerily similar to the loss at Tennessee a week and a half ago, the Bulldogs, led by Jamont Gordon made 5 of 12 from 3-point range in the first half and built a 17-6 lead with 15:01 remaining on a trey by Gordon.
Throughout the first half the spirited Bulldogs continued to build on their lead with 7:41 remaining the home team led 31-17. After the Bulldogs built their lead to 18 with 57 seconds remaining, a 3-pointer by Alex Gordon cut the lead to 15 only to see Reginald Delk make a 3-pointer to put State back up by 18 at 45-27.
Mississippi State further tightened the noose on Vanderbilt early in the second half. State quickly added 5 more points to their lead, building a 50-27 margin with 18:45 remaining in the game. The Bulldogs led by as many as 25 before Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury went to a zone defense to eat up more time.
Vanderbilt then cut the lead to 19 on a dunk by Ted Skuchas at 66-47 with 7:41 remaining. The Commodores managed to get the margin down to 15 on a free throw by Ross Neltner at 69-54 with 5:19 left and quieted the once noisy crowd but Rhodes completed a 3-point play to put State back up by 18 at 72-54. After that play Vanderbilt would never get closer than 15 until the final moments of the game when trailing by 21, George Drake made a 3-pointer and Alan Metcalfe a driving lay-up after a State turnover.
State's Gordon finished with a triple-double, garnering 15 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Dan Cage led Vanderbilt with 12 points, all from 3-point range.
Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings attributed the loss to Mississippi State's superior athleticism. "Our intensity was not poor tonight, but they have a gear, athletically that we do not own. They are faster and quicker all around, and they showed it all tonight. They are just flat out more athletic than we are. It was not that they were trying hard and we were not, they just are more athletic than we are, said Stallings. We would have preferred to play them when they started out 2-5 in the league, but unfortunately we caught them once they got hot," continued the coach.
Vanderbilt's Ross Neltner (center). Mississippi State's Jamont Gordon is at the right. (VM/Don Yates)