Coming off their first SEC win in nearly two years, the Vanderbilt Commodores seemed to play with a renewed confidence on Saturday night in Starkville. The Commodores got off to a slow start against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, trailing 12-5 six minutes into the game, but after playing from behind for much of the first frame Vanderbilt went on a 12-0 run toward the end of the first half. Tyson Carter ended the run with a bucket just before halftime, but the Commodores went into the break ahead 35-31.
But the run didn’t carry over into the second half — and in fact got reversed. The Bulldogs scored the first seven points of the second frame, and after a Saben Lee layup to bring Vanderbilt back within one, Reggie Perry — probably the SEC Player of the Year, or at least he would be if it were up to me — personally took over the game. Perry scored Mississippi State’s next twelve points — helped along by a pair of technical free throws after Jerry Stackhouse got predictably angry at the way the referees were calling the game — and at that point the Bulldogs held a 50-42 lead. By the time Mississippi State missed its first shot of the second half, it was 55-44, a lead that eventually got as big as 62-46 when Tyson Carter made a three with 10:21 left.
There wasn’t any quit in Vanderbilt, though. A couple of big plays by Jordan Wright brought Vanderbilt back within eight with 7:33 left; then, after Mississippi State bought itself a little breathing room, Dylan Disu sank a three-pointer from the right wing while State’s Robert Woodard crashed into him. Disu completed the four-point play to cut Mississippi State’s lead to 69-61; then, after Woodard missed at the other end, Saben Lee made a pair of free throws to cut it to six. But perhaps the Commodores’ best chance went away when, with a chance to cut the lead to four, Scotty Pippen Jr. missed a layup contested at the rim by Perry.
The final was 80-70. Saben Lee led Vanderbilt with 20 points; Ejike Obinna had 12, and Jordan Wright tied his career high with 11. But Vanderbilt had no answer for Mississippi State’s Reggie Perry, who finished the game with 25 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 blocks.