By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
NASHVILLE – The skill and athleticism displayed by the Vanderbilt Commodores most of this season was locked tightly away by the Mississippi State defense Saturday afternoon in the SEC tournament semifinals.
After a 62-52 win over the hometown Commodores, State’s own NCAA future isn’t locked up so tightly – but is far closer to reality than it was just two games ago.
The Bulldogs, after the gut-wrenching loss in Starkville in February, get another chance against Kentucky today. MSU will try to defend its 2009 tournament championship against the No. 2-ranked Wildcats at noon on ABC.
The Bulldogs (23-10) have won seven straight SEC tournament games and have won both games this season after opponents have cut leads of 19 and 15 points to single digits in the second half.
Afterward, MSU coach Rick Stansbury would not speculate about his team’s NCAA tournament chances.
“Obviously our kids haven’t worried about that but have worried about the things they need to worry about, and that’s what happens between the lines,” he said.
Vanderbilt All-SEC center A.J. Ogilvy hurt the Bulldogs in the regular season with 16 points and seven rebounds in a 75-72 win down the street at Memorial Gym.
The Commodores tried to get Ogilvy involved early, but the middle of the lane, held by Jarvis Varnado but with help from his friends, was like a brick house.
The semifinal victory was not only set up by taking away one great player. There were multiple threats to cause concern, but the Bulldogs had multiple answers.
Senior guard Barry Stewart shadowed freshman John Jenkins, a 47.6 3-point shooter who had 25 points Friday against Georgia, holding him to just one attempt.
Slashing point guard Jermaine Beal was held below his scoring and assist averages as well. Beal was the only Vanderbilt player in double figures with 11 points. The Commodores’ big three were clearly Stansbury’s focus.
“They’re as good a halfcourt team as there is in this league,” he said. “The thing we had to do was keep them out of transition and off the offensive boards. We were willing to take our chances with (Andre) Walker and (Jeffery) Taylor.”
Ogilvy had missed two shots before the game was 21⁄2 minutes old. Soon it was apparent he was out of rhythm, and soon after he was in foul trouble, getting his second with 10 minutes, 2 seconds left in the first half with MSU ahead 19-16.
“I had foul trouble that got me out of my rhythm when I had to sit for a long time. I was not able to get started when I got back in,” he said.
In fact, Ogilvy went to the bench before he got his second foul. His backup, beefy Festus Ezeli, had more success but couldn’t keep up the pace. Ezeli had eight points on 4 for 5 shooting in the first half.
The junior Ogilvy finished with two points, 0 for 4 from the floor, without a field goal for the first time in his career. His outside shots were errant, and his dribble-penetration resulted in multiple traveling offenses.
“He tried to get at my body, so I backed off. He stumbled and had two or three traveling calls,” Varnado said.
The Commodores (24-8) played their share of defense, but State got 10 points from Phil Turner and Stewart to take a 33-27 lead.
In the second half the Bulldogs found the offensive rhythm that Vanderbilt never did. Dee Bost and Kodi Augustus fueled an 11-0 run, and MSU led 44-29 with 17:15 left.
The Commodores got as close as three points back on a Brad Tinsley 3-pointer with 5:36 left, but MSU surged ahead again.
“We got outplayed especially close to the basket,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “Our defense was good enough to win, but we were never able to find a rhythm. We couldn’t even get to the free-throw line.”