By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – The vigor was back for Mississippi State, but that only goes so far against Jeffery Taylor.
Vanderbilt’s junior guard scored 25 points and put an emphatic finishing touch on the No. 19-ranked Commodores’ 81-74 win over the Bulldogs on Thursday night. It was Vandy’s first win in Humphrey Coliseum since 1993 and the first for its coach, Kevin Stallings, in six tries.
Those breakthroughs seemed in doubt when MSU (10-9, 2-3 SEC) took a 61-53 lead thanks to an 8-0 run midway through the second half, but Vanderbilt (15-4, 3-2) used a 10-0 spurt to pull ahead 69-66 with 5 minutes, 4 seconds left.
The lead changed hands a few times, and Vanderbilt was leading 77-74 when Taylor stole a Brian Bryant pass and threw down a dunk with 16.3 seconds left to seal it.
“I don’t know, evidently (Bryant) must not have seen him, or he wouldn’t have thrown it,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “But again, that play didn’t beat us. That’s just one of those plays that adds to it.”
Stallings was awed by the play.
“There’s more than one player on the court that could’ve intercepted the ball perhaps, but I don’t know that there was another player on the court that could’ve finished the way he did,” he said
It capped a half where a lot wrong for MSU. Fatigue set in and Vanderbilt’s full-court and half-court press caused problems.
“They jumped in a token press. I don’t know if we ever got double-teamed anywhere,” Stansbury said. “We threw some lazy passes. Fatigue was a problem.”
The Bulldogs had to deal with foul trouble. Renardo Sidney fouled out at the 4:43 mark, and Wendell Lewis played a lot of minutes with four fouls.
Still, Stansbury was happy to see his team bounce back from Saturday’s 22-point loss at Georgia, a game in which MSU seemed to go through the motions and was out-rebounded 48-23.
State and Vandy had 38 rebounds apiece, and the Bulldogs shot 44.8 percent from the floor. Ravern Johnson got back on track with a team-high 19 points, and point guard Dee Bost kept motoring along with 18 points and six assists, and he bounced back after a Festus Ezeli elbow knocked a tooth loose late in the game.
“We definitely played with a higher energy level and just overall toughness; it was a lot better than what we had at Georgia,” guard Riley Benock said. “If we keep playing like that, good things are going to happen.”
In the first half, MSU held Vanderbilt to 35.3 percent shooting and led 37-33 at the break. But the Commodores are the top-scoring team in the league and showed it after halftime, shooting 50 percent and getting to the free throw line 23 times, making 17.
Taylor made 9 of 18 shots on the night, and he got good help from John Jenkins (21 points) and the center Ezeli (14 points in 15 minutes).
“Jeff Taylor was brilliant in the second half,” Stallings said, “and then John was able to get to the foul line like he’s done so well all year long, going down the stretch and converted. It was a great team effort on our part.”
MSU returns to action at noon Saturday when No. 24 Florida pays a visit to Starkville.