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Turner provides spark for MSU Bulldogs


Adam Minichino



STARKVILLE -- Phil Turner knew it was going to take more than a smile and a prayer to beat Georgia. 


So after erasing one double-digit deficit only to see the University of Georgia rebuild its cushion in the second half, the Mississippi State junior guard realized something more needed to be done. 


Turner was only happy to oblige. 


The energy and thievery Turner provided in a pressure defense in the final 5 minutes, 13 seconds proved to be contagious Saturday and helped MSU recover for an 82-79 victory against Georgia before a crowd of 7,682 at Humphrey Coliseum. 


"I feel like that is why I am on the team in any area I can," said Turner, who scored a season-high 15 points and had three steals in 16 minutes. "When I came in I saw we were down a little bit and I just tried to bring the team some energy." 


Turner scored the first three points of a game-turning run that helped MSU (15-3, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) turn a 64-51 deficit into a 68-67 lead. A steal by Turner on a full-court press resulted in two made free throws that gave MSU a brief lead and helped set up a fabulous finish and provided a plethora of key contributions. 


Barry Stewart (10 points) hit two free throws after forcing a held ball on a weakside rebound. The points gave MSU a 70-69 lead with 1:26 to go. 


Jarvis Varnado (14 points, 14 rebounds, six blocked shots) then took the ball away from Trey Thompkins on the right block as the Georgia forward went up for a shot. 


"I knew I shouldn''t jump and I put my hands straight up because he was going to put his body into me, so I just put my hands straight up into the air and the ball came into my hands," Varnado said.  


Dee Bost then provided the final points as he absorbed shoulder contact from Dustin Ware, gathered himself, and banked in a shot off the glass on a drive down the right lane to make it 72-69 with 39.1 seconds left. 


Varnado, who now has 490 career blocks (46 from breaking the NCAA all-time mark), lived up to his swatting habits when he blocked a 3-point attempt by Ware with 20.7 seconds to go. 


Not to be outdone, Stewart, who is known more for his offense, blocked a final 3-point attempt by Ricky McPhee in the left corner in front of the Georgia bench. Stewart said he knew he had to stay close to McPhee because he watched Jamal Crawford hit a 28-foot shot at the buzzer Friday night to help the Atlanta Hawks beat the Phoenix Suns 102-101. He said Crawford rocked his defender onto his heels, which allowed him to get the shot off. 


The drama wasn''t over.  


MSU''s Ravern Johnson missed two free throws with 10.8 seconds remaining, which gave Ware another 3-point attempt that went in and out in the waning seconds. 


The variety of defensive stops pointed back to Turner, who flashed his smile earlier in the second half when he passed up easy 3-pointer to run the half-court offense. 


"Phil played great in the second half," Varnado said. "He brought energy and that toughness we needed to beat them. He played with a lot of passion, and it carried over to the rest of the players, knocking down big threes and coming up with key steals, that is what Phil does." 


MSU coach Rick Stansbury said Turner used his energy to get the whole team going. The pick-me-up was needed on an afternoon in which MSU struggled to contain Georgia on the backboards. The Bulldogs from Athens, Ga., had 21 offensive offensive rebounds, outrebounded MSU 47-33, had a 56-28 edge in points in the paint, and 20-7 on second-chance points. 


"Even though we weren''t at our best, I want to give Georgia plenty of credit again," Stansbury said. "They got every rebound in the first half. We came out in the second half and battled. From about the seven- or eight-minute mark I thought we were at our best. I saw another level or energy and competitiveness on the court." 


Thompkins (18 points) and Travis Leslie (14 points, 15 rebounds) led the charge for Georgia, but nine of its 15 turnovers came in the second half when MSU went to the full-court press to change the momentum. 


"Their pressure bothered us," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "We didn''t handle their full-court pressure late very well and we made some critical errors and they capitalized on them." 


Fox credited Turner for supplying the spark MSU needed. He said he and his teammates hit key 3-pointers and clutch shots to steal the momentum and push his team to 8-8 and 0-3 in the SEC. 


Fox credited MSU''s defense for slowing down Leslie, who had 12 points in the first half. He also opted not to talk about the officiating when asked what he thought about the no-call on Ware''s final 3-point attempt. 


Meanwhile, Turner was only too happy to discuss his role in the come-from-behind victory. He didn''t take sole credit for the win, but he said he could tell his play lifted his teammates'' energy. 


"I have been doing a lot of sacrificing for the team and for myself because I knew my time was going to come and that I was going to prove over and over again that I can help this team win a basketball game," Turner said. "I am a very spiritual person, and I give a lot of credit to God. He has helped me through hard times during the season. I have just been trying to stay focused and stay positive and do a little bit extra and work a little bit harder so when my opportunity cam I could show again why I feel I can help this team win basketball games." 


Turner said MSU''s performance down the stretch resembled how the team played last season when it made its run to the NCAA tournament. He said he thought it was the "hardest" he has seen the Bulldogs play as a team, and hopes he can do his part to help it continue. 


"I think it is going to help us out in later games because this is one of those games that we can look back and say that we easily could have lost it as well as won it," Turner said. "That style of play playing loose but playing real hard, I don''t think you can go wrong like that." 


n NOTES: Former MSU great and Denver Broncos linebacker/defensive end Mario Haggan was in attendance and introduced to the crowd with 8:03 left to play in the first half. ... Senior running back Anthony Dixon was presented with his Conerly Trophy at halftime. The award is presented annually to the state''s top college football player. ... MSU football coach Dan Mullen also made an appearance at halftime to introduce Manny Diaz and Chris Wilson, his new co-defensive coordinators. ... MSU started SEC play 3-0 for the third consecutive season.  



Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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