January 28, 2011 7:47:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State men''s basketball coach Rick Stansbury didn''t get the result he wanted Thursday, but he was happy to see his team play better.
MSU improved its rebounding, raised its bench production, and saw leading scorer Ravern Johnson snap out of a scoring funk with 19 points.
Unfortunately, MSU couldn''t hold an eight-point, second-half lead as No. 19 Vanderbilt rallied for an 81-74 victory at Humphrey Coliseum.
The win was the first for Vanderbilt (15-4, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) in Starkville since 1993.
"It''s a new feeling," Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. "I haven''t known victory down here. We had to work really hard to get it."
The loss also was MSU''s second to a SEC East opponent, following a 22-point loss to Georgia last Saturday.
Vanderbilt forward Jeffery Taylor scored a game-high 25 points, including 17 in the second half.
MSU point guard Dee Bost scored 18 and had six assists.
MSU (10-9, 2-3) must regroup quickly for another ranked opponent from the SEC East. It will play host to No. 24 Florida at noon Saturday.
But the Bulldogs will take a string of positives from Thursday''s game. After getting only three points from its bench points at Georgia, MSU had 15 against Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs also were outrebounded by 25 in Athens, Ga., but matched the Commodores at 38.
And after playing predominantly zone defense through four league games to help starting center Renardo Sidney and Bost get back into shape following suspension layoffs, Stansbury estimated the Bulldogs played 35 minutes of man-to-man defense Thursday.
"As we talked about, let''s make sure we can walk through that door and know we left everything on the floor we could have left on the floor," Stansbury said. "We didn''t play perfect, but let''s make sure we''re competitive and we fight. We just made some bad plays in this game."
The most glaring mistake came with MSU trailing 77-74 with 18 seconds remaining. The Bulldogs had just forced Lance Goulbourne to travel and were set to take hold for the last shot before Taylor, who had an earlier steal that made it 75-72 lead, jumped a Brian Bryant pass intended for Riley Benock the backcourt.
Taylor finished the play with an and-one dunk for the dagger. Bryant, not Bost, was playing point guard on the play.
"I''m not really sure what happened," Benock said of Taylor''s last steal. "We knew we had to get something going quick, and it seemed like they took away the middle. It kind of surprised us, and he jumped that pass. It''s just something that happens and a situation you don''t want to be in, but it''s part of the game."
Sidney fouled out for the second-straight game, finishing with six points and five rebounds in 13 minutes. He played sparingly in the first half after picking up two early fouls. He picked up his fourth with 11 minutes, 6 seconds left in the second half. He went to the bench, though MSU was relieved to see Vanderbilt center Festus Ezeli (14 points in 15 minutes) pick up his fourth foul on the next possession.
"Sid was no factor," Stansbury said. "All I remember was him checking in and out. All these fouls were just one after another."
Without Sidney, who averages 14.5 points per game, the Bulldogs leaned on Wendell Lewis and Kodi Augustus, who finished with 10 and six, respectively. The duo combined to make 8 of 11 shots.
However, when Sidney fouled out with 4:30 seconds left, Ezeli, a junior, knocked down two free throws and had a layup in a 6-0 run that gave the Commodores a 77-72 lead with two minutes left.
"I didn''t want to have happen to him what happened to their big kid (Sidney)," Stallings said of Ezeli. "We were kind of on a run, we put him back in and goodness gracious he went to work. He was a beast in there those last four minutes. Got us tough baskets and made his free throws."
Sidney has fouled out in three of the seven games in which he has played, and has finished with four in two others. For the second-straight game, both of MSU''s starting front-line players had to work through foul trouble.
"It hurts," Johnson said. "We don''t have that many big men. (If) they''re fouling out, what we gonna do?"
Bost played 37 minutes but was unavailable for post-game comments after an Ezeli elbow late in the second half knocked a tooth knocked loose. He left the game briefly but returned for the final two minutes.
MSU will play host to Florida at noon Saturday, while Vanderbilt will play host to Arkansas at 5 p.m. Saturday.