GAME NOTES: The 14th-seeded Mississippi State Bulldogs and the 11th-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores will square off on Wednesday night in the final first- round contest of the SEC Tournament at the Georgia Dome.
The winner will move on to the second round on Thursday night to play sixth- seeded Ole Miss.
Mississippi State had the unfortunate distinction of being the SEC's worst team, as it comes into the tournament riding a 13-game losing streak, including a 74-62 home loss to South Carolina on Saturday, to finish up the conference schedule a mere 3-15. After a strong 13-5 start to the season, the Bulldogs are now only 13-18 overall.
Vanderbilt has not been strong down the stretch, having lost four straight games to finish up at 7-11 in the SEC and slide to 15-15 overall. The Commodores fought hard at Ole Miss in the regular-season finale last Saturday but ultimately fell on the wrong end of a 65-62 decision.
The Commodores won the only meeting between the teams this season in a 55-49 decision on Feb. 1 to extend their advantage in the all-time series to 76-45.
Mississippi State's losing streak continued last Saturday as it fell behind South Carolina by 13 at the half and could never climb its way back in, shooting only 42.9 percent from the field while getting manhandled on the glass, 46-27. Craig Sword paced the losing effort with 19 points and stuffed the stat sheet elsewhere too with six rebounds, five assists and two steals. Fred Thomas was stellar off the bench with 15 points.
On the season, the Bulldogs unsurprisingly rank near the bottom of the league in both scoring offense (67.3 ppg) and scoring defense (71.2 ppg), and they sport lackluster percentages from 3-point range (.299) and the free-throw line (.663). Sword (13.4 ppg) and Gavin Ware (10.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg) act as the only double-digit scorers, with Ware shooting just shy of 59 percent from the field. Roquez Johnson (9.5 ppg), Colin Borchert (8.9 ppg) and Thomas (8.9 ppg) have also been useful.
The Commodores appeared in good shape to take down their most recent game leading Ole Miss by 12 with under 14 minutes to play, but they slowly lost control down the stretch before losing by three. They shot a modest 40 percent from the field, but their biggest detriment was losing the turnover battle by a lopsided 17-5 margin. Dai-Jon Parker did his best to lift the team to victory by shooting 5-of-7 from beyond the arc on his way to 25 points. Luke Kornet brought 13 points to the mix and Damian Jones logged 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Vanderbilt's offensive production this season has been lackluster to say the least, as it shoots 43.1 percent from the field for just 64.5 ppg, but it has been saved by a stellar defensive effort, which holds opponents to only 40 percent shooting and 65.0 ppg. Rod Odom is the go-to option with 14.3 ppg, having drained 82 3- pointers at a 38.5 percent clip. Kyle Fuller scores 11.1 ppg and hands out 4.2 apg, while Jones (11.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.3 bpg) and James Siakam (7.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.3 bpg) are both solid in the paint.
Mississippi State seems to have checked out over the last few weeks, and it'll be difficult to turn things around in the tournament, even against a Vanderbilt squad that has had its share of struggles as well. Expect the Commodores' stellar defense to lead them to victory.
Game Date and Time