March 13, 2014 12:15:50 AM
STAFF REPORT w/ video provided by Southeastern Conference
ATLANTA - Shooting a season-best 59.3 percent from the field, Mississippi State blitzed past Vanderbilt 82-68 in an opening-round game of the Southeastern Conference tournament.
No. 14 seed MSU (14-18) will now face No. 6 seed Ole Miss (18-13) at 8:30 p.m. CT Thursday in a second-round contest. The game will be televised by SEC TV and shown regionally either by local affiliates or on Fox Sports Net.
"We have been waiting to play them since they beat us the first time," MSU junior forward Roquez Johnson said. "So we're going to come out there and play our hardest and do what we have to do.
The victory for MSU ended a 13-game losing streak, one game beyond tying the school record for consecutive losses.
"You don't want to answer the question the whole offseason on the losing streak going into next season," MSU coach Rick Ray said after the win.
The in-state rivals have met one time in the conference tournament with MSU winning 73-64 in 2003. MSU won a first-round tournament game for a second straight season and beat Vanderbilt in this event for a program-best sixth time.
"I can deal with the public scrutiny and things lake that," Ray said. "I'm fine. I'm grown. But those guys right there (MSU players), you want to make sure that they have an incentive to work in the offseason and get better.
To secure Wednesday's win, the Bulldogs not only had their best night from the field, but they also notched a season-high 21 assists. After an old-fashioned 3-point play by Craig Sword gave the Bulldogs a 9-8 lead, they did not trail over the final 36 minutes, 34 seconds of the contest.
MSU began its blistering offensive assault early as it made its first four shots from the field. Less than five minutes into the contest, each MSU starter was in the scoring column. The first of four Fred Thomas 3-point baskets placed the Bulldogs on top 14-8.
The Bulldogs shot in excess of 70 percent for most of the half and still led by nine points at 34-25 and 36-27. MSU did not score over the final 3:55 of the half but still led 36-31 at the intermission.
Vanderbilt mounted a 9-0 run to pull within six points. The Bulldogs' answer was another jumper by Johnson and five straight points by Sword. A monster dunk by Gavin Ware ran the lead back out to 59-46 with 6:38 left.
After shooting 60.9 percent from the field in the first half, MSU followed that up with a 58.1 percent performance in the second half.
For the contest, the Bulldogs hit 32 of 54 shots from the field (59.3 percent), 6 of 13 shots from 3-point range (46.2 percent) and 12 of 16 shots from the foul line (75.0 percent). The Commodores hit 25 of 56 shots from the field (44.6 percent), 8 of 25 shots from 3-point range (32.0 percent) and 10 of 16 shots from the foul line (62.5 percent).
MSU held a 33-25 rebounding advantage. The Bulldogs had 21 assists and 13 turnovers, while the Commodores had 14 assists and 13 turnovers.
Sword led four Bulldogs in double figures with 20 points, six assists and three steals. Johnson added 18 points, while Thomas added 16 points and Ware added 11 points. I.J. Ready had a team-best six rebounds.
"We know we had a bad losing streak, but we are just going to start fresh in the SEC tournament and come out there and play our hardest," Johnson said.
Vanderbilt also placed four players in double figures. Damian Jones had 16 points, while Rod Odom and Dai-Jon Parker each had 15 points and Kyle Fuller had 11 points.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
3. Singer-songwriter to share songs and stories of grace ENTERTAINMENT