By Logan Lowery
ATLANTA – Mississippi State has lost 13-straight games and finished in last place in the Southeastern Conference standings.
But none of that matters now.
The Bulldogs (13-18, 3-15) are approaching the SEC tournament at the Georgia Dome with a clean slate and hope to gain some momentum tonight taking on No. 11 seed Vanderbilt tonight in the opening round.
The game will start at approximately 8:30 p.m.
“This could be a brand-new start,” said MSU freshman guard I.J. Ready. “We can forget about the season going into the tournament and play. We really don’t have anything to lose at this point. Everybody things we’re underdogs, so if we can go out and get a couple of wins I think that will give us some confidence.”
MSU was able to win its first round SEC tournament game last year under head coach Rick Ray. The Bulldogs knocked off South Carolina 70-59 in Nashville before falling to Tennessee 69-53. Fred Thomas paced MSU with 14.5 points per game in last year’s tournament.
State has three SEC tournament titles to its credit and is 28-50 all-time at the event. Tonight will mark the Bulldogs 14th matchup with Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament, the most against any opponent.
The Commodores lead the all-time series 76-45 and are 8-5 against Mississippi State in the SEC Tournament.
Vandy defeated the Bulldogs 87-81 during their last meeting at the 2011 SEC tournament in Atlanta.
The Commodores also claimed a 55-49 outing on Feb. 1 this season in Nashville. MSU cut the lead to four on four different occasions in the second half but ultimately could not overcome 18 turnovers. Thomas was the only Bulldog in double figures with 16 points while senior forward Rod Odom of Vanderbilt scored a game-high 18.
“The thing you worry about when you play a Kevin Stallings team is just how well prepared they’ll be and executing both offensively and defensively,” Ray said. “Odom is a talent but the guy you concern yourself with is Damien Jones. Damien Jones got in early foul trouble against us and really wasn’t on the court much in the first half but he’s such a long physical presence.”
Jones, a 6-foot-10 freshman, is averaging 11.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, while Odom is the Commodores leader with 13.6 points also grabs 5.3 boards.
Vandy (15-15, 7-11) has dropped four straight entering the tournament, including a 65-62 loss at Ole Miss over the weekend.
Sophomore shooting guard Craig Sword continues to lead State at 13.4 points per game but was held to just four points in the previous outing against Vanderbilt’s zone defense.
“I’ve got to attack their zone and get my teammates going,” Sword said. “If I can get them going, then I’m going. It doesn’t matter how many points I score.”
Tonight’s winner plays Ole Miss on Thursday night.