CBKB: Misissippi St. gets 62-52 SEC win over No. 20 Vanderbilt
AP Sports Writer
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Barry Stewart scored 14 points and Mississippi State advanced to its second consecutive Southeastern Conference tournament championship game with a 62-52 win over No. 20 Vanderbilt on Saturday.
The Bulldogs (23-10) face a Kentucky team returning to the title game for the first time since 2004.
Dee Bost, Phil Turner and Jarvis Varnado each added 11 for Mississippi State, which won four straight games in the 2009 tournament for its first crown in seven seasons. The Bulldogs received a first-round bye this time after sharing the SEC West Division crown with Mississippi, a team they beat twice this season.
Jermaine Beal scored 11 for Vanderbilt (24-8), which was hoping to reach the SEC tournament championship game for only the second time. The Commodores reached the final and won in 1951 and have lost two other times in the semifinals since the league split into divisions in 1992.
With a 33-29 lead just after halftime, Mississippi State went on an 11-0 run. Kodi Augustus blocked a shot by Vanderbilt's Jeffery Taylor, and Bost made a fast-break layup to give the Bulldogs a 44-29 lead with 17:13 left.
Vanderbilt started to show signs of life when a three-point play by Taylor and a 3 by Brad Tinsley launched a 10-0 run. After a pair of free throws by Varnado, Tinsley sank another 3 to cut Mississippi State's lead to 51-48 with 5:37 left.
The Bulldogs clamped down on defense and answered with a 9-1 run to seal the win.
Mississippi State, which shot 57.1 percent in the quarterfinals against Florida, shot only 37.5 percent before halftime. Festus Ezeli hit a layup off a missed 3-pointer by Andrew Walker to cut the Bulldogs' lead to 25-22 with 6:25 left in the half, but the Commodores entered a 4½ minute drought, committing three fouls and four turnovers in the stretch.
Even though the tournament is being played in Vanderbilt's hometown, the Commodores' numbers were nearly matched in the stands by Mississippi State fans and far exceeded by the presence of Kentucky fans, who hung around to watch after their second-ranked Wildcats routed No. 15 Tennessee 74-45.