By Logan Lowery
ATLANTA – Mississippi State may have ended the regular season with 13-straight losses but the 14th seeded Bulldogs are now 1-0 in the postseason.
MSU (14-18) registered its first win since Jan. 22 knocking off No. 11 seed Vanderbilt 82-68 in the first round of the SEC Tournament. It is the second straight year the Bulldogs have won their opening game under head coach Rick Ray.
“Something as simple as getting a win, getting some momentum and getting a chance to continue on in the SEC Tournament means a lot to (our players) and their self psyche,” Ray said. “I think that’s the most important thing, it’s gives those guys confidence going into the offseason about themselves and what we’re doing here.”
State shot 58.1 percent from the field and hit six 3-pointers.
Craig Sword led all scorers with 20 points on 8 of 13 shooting. Roquez Johnson added 18 points, Fred Thomas scored 16 and Gavin Ware chipped in 11 for the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State began the game on fire hitting its first seven shots from the field. The Bulldogs would miss just nine shots the entire first half hitting 60.9 percent from the field including 4 of 8 behind the arc.
“We executed,” Sword said. “We ran all of our plays right, made good shots and we finished them. Throughout the year we didn’t finish those types of shots but tonight we did.”
Thomas, who averaged 14.5 points during last year’s SEC Tournament, knocked down his first three shots from 3-point range while Sword poured in 10 points in the opening half.
MSU was up by as many as nine points in the first half and led 36-31 at intermission, its first halftime lead since Feb. 5 at Texas A&M. Only four Commodores scored in the first half with Damian Jones and Dai-Jon Parker accounting for all but seven points.
The Bulldogs momentum spilled over into the second half beginning on a 10-0 run extending their advantage to 15 four minutes in.
Roquez Johnson played a major role in State’s strong start to the second half scoring 10 of the first 16 points. The Commodores cut the lead to six on two separate occasions in the second half but the Bulldogs were able to press their advantage back out to 17 by the 3:22 mark.
Vanderbilt (15-16) received 16 points from Jones and 15 from Parker and Rod Odom while Kyle Fuller scored 11.
The Bulldogs face in-state rival and tournament six-seed Ole Miss tonight at 8:30 p.m. on SEC-TV. The two have not met in the SEC Tournament since the Bulldogs won 73-64 in 2003.
The two teams split during the regular season.
“We’ve been waiting to play them since they beat us the first time,” Johnson said. “We’re going to come out there and play our hardest and do what we have to do.”