By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
ATLANTA – John Jenkins, hurt? You could’ve fooled Mississippi State.
Vanderbilt’s sophomore guard, the leading scorer in the SEC, was a game-time decision because of a turf toe injury. He not only started, he lit up the Bulldogs to the tune of 29 points in the Commodores’ 87-81 win Friday night in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome.
The win avenged a semifinal loss to MSU (17-14) in last year’s tourney. Vanderbilt (23-9) will play Florida in today’s semifinal. All State can do is wait and hope for an NIT bid.
It was the first time MSU hasn’t reached the semifinal round of the SEC Tournament since 2006.
“We didn’t come here to go home tonight,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “We haven’t done it lately, and it’s a different feeling.”
Still, Stansbury said he was happy with the way his team played.
The Bulldogs were in good shape late with the game tied at 76-76 with just over 2 minutes left. But then Jenkins was fouled on a 3-pointer and made all three free throws, and on the next possession converted a 4-point play for an 83-78 lead with 1:34 to go.
“I’m not for sure what we could have done different except keep Jenkins from scoring,” Stansbury said. “How you do that, I’m not for sure.”
MSU’s Kodi Augustus missed a jumper at the 1:10 mark, and Jeffery Taylor iced it with a jumper with 38 seconds left.
Renardo Sidney, who played only 85 seconds in the first half because of foul trouble, went off in the second half, when he scored 20 of his team-high 22 points. Sidney was 10 of 16 from the field.
After a slow start to the second half, MSU got behind point guard Dee Bost, who after a foul pumped his fists and hollered, “Let’s go!” His ensuing free throws tied the game at 49-49, part of a 14-4 run that sparked the Bulldogs.
The game was hardly over, but MSU was re-energized.
“We just wanted everybody to keep fighting,” Bost said.
Ravern Johnson, who missed a little time after taking a hard lick, gave MSU a 65-60 lead with three free throws at the 7:08 mark, but Vandy rallied back, with Jenkins’ 3-pointer tying it at 67-67.
Vandy wound up going on a 14-4 run, with Taylor (20 points) accounting for eight of the points as the Dores went ahead 76-71. But MSU answered with a layup and then a 3-pointer by Sidney to tie it at 76-76 with 2:20 to go.
Sidney had exited the game a few minutes earlier after hurting his leg.
“ It was tough (foul) calls in the first half, but we tried, and we played well the second half,” Sidney said. “Tough loss.”
Jenkins hit 10 of 17 shots, including 5 of 9 from 3-point range, and scored 22 of his points after halftime.
“I woke up (Friday) feeling pretty good,” Jenkins said. “And I knew that I really wanted to play, so I kind of told the trainers that I wanted to play, and I went through a practice and walking and stuff, and it felt good.”
Vandy made half its field goal tries (28 of 56) and 11 of 23 from downtown, and it was 20 of 22 from the foul line.
MSU hit 50.8 percent from the floor (32 of 63), was 9-19 from behind the arc and made all eight free throws. Johnson had 18 points, while Bost had 16 points, 11 assists and just two turnovers.
Augustus added 10 points.
“Even when we got down, we fought our way back into it the whole game,” Johnson said. “It’s the most together we’ve played all season.”
Last time these teams met, on Jan. 27 in Starkville, Jenkins and Taylor combined for 46 points in an 81-74 Vanderbilt win.
Vanderbilt opened the second half with a 9-0 run fueled by a pair of Jenkins 3-pointers.
Besides the fouls, it was a cleanly played game, with MSU committing 10 turnovers and Vanderbilt five. MSU won the rebounding battle, 35-25, even with a shortage in the post the first half, which was marked by early foul trouble.
Augustus and Sidney were both on the bench with two fouls less than six minutes into the game, and then John Riek got three quick ones off the bench.
Wendell Lewis picked up two but stayed in, scoring all six of his first-half points on putbacks.
The foul trouble forced Stansbury to play little-used senior Brandon Bolen, who provided some quality minutes, and MSU weathered the barrage of foul calls.
A back-and-forth first half ended when Bost drove into the lane and tossed it in just before the horn to give MSU a 38-36 edge. Bost had 11 points at the half on 5-of-10 shooting.
MSU out-rebounded Vandy in the half, 17-12. The Commodores had issues, too, with Festus Ezeli and Lance Goulbourne missing most of the half with foul trouble.
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or email@example.com.