STARKVILLE, Miss. - Mississippi State could not hold a late lead, as 19th-ranked Vanderbilt rallied for an 81-74 Southeastern Conference men's basketball victory Thursday night in the Humphrey Coliseum.
The Commodores exercised all kinds of demons as they won in this building for the first time since 1993. Eleventh-year VU head coach Kevin Stallings has now won in every arena in the league, as he snapped a personal five-game skid here and the Commodores stopped a string of eight straight defeats on the MSU campus.
With the victory, Vanderbilt improved to 15-4 overall and 3-2 in league play, while MSU fell to 10-9 and 2-3. The Bulldogs lost a second straight game to a ranked opponent, with a third looming (Florida) on the horizon Saturday.
"Well there are no moral victories, but I am pleased with the competitiveness and the fight we displayed," MSU head coach Rick Stansbury said. "When we left the locker room before the game, we talked about leaving it all on the floor. I think we did that tonight."
The Commodores took over inside down the stretch of the game's final half. The Bulldogs actually held a 63-54 lead with 9:18 left to play. However, the Commodores got the ball inside at will late in the contest, eventually earning 23 free throw attempts in the game's final half alone.
The Bulldogs lost the services of Renardo Sidney, who fouled out with 4:39 left. Kodi Augustus and Wendell Lewis each finished with four fouls. Dee Bost also was knocked out briefly in the closing minutes after an elbow to the face caused a tooth to become dislodged.
Still, the Bulldogs held possession down 77-74 with 1:53 left. On the offensive, end MSU missed a 3-point shot attempt by Bost and a follow-up putback attempt by Brian Bryant. The Bulldogs held on the defensive end; however, Bryant threw the ball away in the backcourt with just 18 seconds left in regulation.
The steal by Jeffery Taylor resulted in a decisive dunk. The Commodores added two free throws by John Jenkins to close out the victory.
"Give credit to Vanderbilt, they made some plays to win the game," Stansbury said. "We had some turnovers late and they were magnified because of where they took place in the game. We made bad plays at wrong times.
"However, when you have the lead ... we are up 7 or 9 ... you have to get some rebounds and you have to block out better. You have to limit them to one shot. In its half-court offense, Vanderbilt is one of the best teams in the nation. They made some things happen."
The contest was highly entertaining and competitive throughout.
Vanderbilt used a 10-4 run to open a 15-9 advantage early in the first half. The Bulldogs scored the game's next seven points with a jumper by Augustus giving the Maroon and White a 16-15 advantage.
The lead went back and forth, before Ravern Johnson created a 29-26 MSU advantage with a 3-point make 5:25 before halftime.
Playing one of its better defensive halves of the season, the Bulldogs scored the first half's final six points to take a 37-33 lead at the intermission.
The Bulldogs parlayed that momentum into a seven-point advantage at 45-38 on a Riley Benock trey. VU quickly answered for a 49-49 tie.
Not deterred, the Bulldogs actually sprinted out to the 63-54 advantage thanks in part to a 3-pointer from Bost and monster dunk from Augustus.
From there, Vanderbilt's depth and MSU's foul trouble did the hosts in.
For the contest, MSU hit 26 of 58 shots from the field (44.8 percent), 8 of 27 shots from 3-point range (29.6 percent) and 14 of 17 shots from the foul line (82.4 percent). VU hit 26 of 62 shots from the field (41.9 percent), 8 of 29 shots from 3-point range (27.6 percent) and 21 of 31 shots from the foul line (67.7 percent).
The teams were even at 38 on the boards. MSU had 10 assists and 12 turnovers, while VU had 11 assists and nine turnovers.
Johnson paced the Bulldogs with 19 points, while Bost added 18 points and Augustus had 10 points. Lewis finished with a team-high six rebounds.
Taylor finished with a game-high 25 points for Vanderbilt. Jenkins added 21 points, while Festus Ezeli had 14 points. Lance Goulbourne pulled down a game-best 12 rebounds for the victors.
MSU and 24th-ranked Florida tip at noon Saturday inside the Humphrey Coliseum.