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MSU gets matchup against Vanderbilt

 

David Miller

 

STARKVILLE -- The Southeastern Conference tournament matchup the Mississippi State men''s basketball team expected is here, and with plenty of story lines.  

 

Vanderbilt defeated LSU 62-50 Thursday night in the opening round of the tournament at the georgia Dome in Atlanta. The win sets up a matchup between the Bulldogs (17-13, 9-7 SEC) and the Commodores (22-9, 9-7), who won in Starkville for the first time in 18 years on Jan. 27. MSU eliminated Vanderbilt in the semifinals of last year''s SEC tournament. 

 

The Commodores enter tonight''s game with leading scorer John Jenkins questionable. The sophomore shooting guard has turf toe, which he suffered in a loss to the University of Florida on March 5.  

 

Jenkins, who averages 19.4 points per game, was available against LSU on emergency basis, coach Kevin Stallings said.  

 

"We''ll have shoot around (today) and look and see how he''s feeling, and see if he''s any better than he was (Thursday)," Stallings said. "His status would be questionable or uncertain. I don''t know. This is not the NFL, but we''re hopeful he''s a little better." 

 

Jenkins, however, didn''t sound confident he''d be able to play a major role against the Bulldogs. 

 

"I''m going to try to come back and play. I don''t know how effective I''ll be," Jenkins said.  

 

The Commodores didn''t need Jenkins against the Tigers, who entered the tournament as the league''s lowest-scoring team.  

 

Still, they shot just 36.4 percent from the floor and made only 3 of 22 3-pointers. 

 

Stallings praised his team''s defensive effort, but admitted some of the lineup combinations, which included freshman guard Kyle Fuller, concerned him on the offensive end.  

 

Should Jenkins miss tonight''s game, the Commodores will lean on small forward Jeffery Taylor, who led the way against LSU with a game-high 21 points.  

 

Taylor (game-high 25 points) led a 48-point second half in an 81-74 win against MSU earlier this season. He was 9 of 18 from the field. 

 

"No question Vanderbilt is well put together," MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. "They''re experienced. They have depth. They don''t make a whole lot of mistakes out there for things you can take advantage of." 

 

Stansbury hails Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli as one of the league''s premier centers at attacking the rim.  

 

Ezeli was 5 of 5 from the field in 15 minutes due to foul problems in the first matchup. 

 

MSU center Renardo Sidney played just 13 minutes in that game and had six points and five rebounds.  

 

Ezeli anticipates a tougher battle in the post tonight. 

 

"(MSU) trapped a little bit in the post," Ezeli said. "But it''s a lot of one-on-one as well, so I don''t know. It''s going to be a big battle because they have a really good post player, so it''s going to be a big game." 

 

With six days off since it last played, fatigue shouldn''t be as big of a factor for Sidney as it was in January. A greater concern for Sidney''s conditioning could come in the semifinals or in the final if MSU advances. 

 

Sidney brushed off notions playing games on successive days would affect hium because he did it in a five-games-in-five-days stretch earlier in the season. 

 

"I''m taking this whole week to push myself harder than I''ve pushed myself because I know they''re going to need me in the long run," Sidney said. "I''m just looking forward to playing in the SEC tournament." 

 

If Mississippi State wins today, it will play in the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on WKDH.

 

 

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