A season of ironman basketball ultimately wore down Vanderbilt. The Commodores were listless and unable to fend off a tourney-opening upset as a devastating 82-68 loss to Mississippi State cut Vandy's season short on Wednesday.
The Bulldogs used stellar shooting in the paint to break down a Commodore team that lacked the firepower to win a shootout. State shot 59.3% from the field to break their 13-game losing streak and ensure that Vandy ended their second-straight season with a losing record. Four different State players scored 10 points or more, led by Craig Sword's 20.
Vanderbilt had relied on seven scholarship players to play huge minutes throughout the SEC schedule, and those long nights showed on the opening night of the SEC Tournament. Seniors Kyle Fuller and Rod Odom, who combined to play nearly 68 minutes per game this year, struggled to find the energy that lifted this team to big wins over Missouri and Tennessee earlier in the season. The 'Dores fell behind early, and despite a pair of rallies, could never close the gap to catch MSU.
Mississippi State couldn't miss early in the first half. The Bulldogs opened up a 36-27 lead by making 14 of their first 18 shots. Fuller and Odom failed to find their stroke as the duo was out-dueled by MSU's Fred Thomas and Craig Sword early on. Fortunately for the 'Dores, Damian Jones and Dai-Jon Parker were able to keep the team afloat, combining for 24 points as Vandy hit halftime trailing 36-31.
The 'Dores couldn't sustain that momentum in the second half. State jumped out to a double-digit lead thanks to a 10-0 run that had Kevin Stallings burning a timeout with 17 minutes left in the game. MSU extended that lead to 16 points before Vandy used the deep ball to turn the momentum back in their favor. Three-pointers from Odom, Parker, and Luke Kornet cut the Bulldog lead to 50-44 and gave the 'Dores a fighting chance as the clock wound down.
However, Vandy's inability to stop State's players in the paint ended up being their downfall. The Bulldogs responded to Vanderbilt's run with shots from close range that extended their lead back to double-digits and frustrated the Commodores' tiring big men. Kevin Stallings switched to the press late in the game in a last-ditch effort to catch up, but Mississippi State could not be cooled down.
Jones led Vanderbilt with 16 points, while Parker added 15. Odom and Fuller, in their final game as Commodores, combined for 26. Sword led all scorers with 20 points. With the win, Mississippi State earned an Egg Bowl rematch with Ole Miss on day two of the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs toppled their in-state rivals back in January,