Bulldogs rally back to down Commodores, 57-54


STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) — I.J. Ready hit a 3-pointer and two free throws in the final 71 seconds to lead Mississippi State to a 57-54 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday to snap its 16-game regular-season Southeastern Conference losing streak.

Ready led the Bulldogs (8-9, 1-3) with 11 points while Fred Thomas added 10.

“I thought we took a huge step today,” Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said. “It is a process and we’ve have to keep doing the right things and it will pay off. We needed that victory and our guys needed to experience success. But now the next step is ‘How do they handle this?’.”

Vanderbilt (11-6, 1-3) was paced by Damian Jones’ 21 points. Riley LaChance had 12 for the Commodores, who dropped their third straight game.

Both teams struggled offensively at the start before Vanderbilt began to expand the lead thanks to Mississippi State turnovers.

After taking a 12-10 lead, the Commodores went on a 14-4 run and held their largest lead at 26-14 with two minutes left in the first half. The Bulldogs scored the final four points of the half and trailed 26-18 at halftime.

Vanderbilt shot just 39 percent in the first half and made 5 of 10 free throws. Mississippi State hit 35 percent from the field and had 11 first-half turnovers. The Bulldogs owned the backboards 23-11 in the first half.

Vanderbilt led 35-28 with 16 minutes left in the game before the Bulldogs went on a 14-0 run to take a 42-35 lead. Thomas and Gavin Ware combined for 12 of the 14 points during that run, including Thomas’ first eight points of the game.

“I thought our pressure in the second half bothered them a little bit,” said Ray. “Obviously, rebounding was a key stat. I think Damian Jones is such a productive player and we had to combat that with our pressure. Another thing that ended up happening is we got to the free throw line so much.”

Ware finished with seven points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Oliver Black had six points and seven rebounds for Mississippi State, who controlled the boards 41-28, with 14 offensive rebounds.

Mississippi State shot 38.6 percent for the game but made 20 of 27 (74.1 percent) at the free throw line. Vanderbilt was held to 38.5 percent shooting and was just 5 of 20 beyond the arc. The Commodores also struggled at the line making 9 of 17.

“We’re disappointed and they played with more urgency in the second half,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “I’ve got to figure out a way to get our guys to play more confidently. We’re just not playing well right now and I am not sure what it is. But we’ve got to find a way to get it fixed. I thought Mississippi State was the aggressor and played harder than we did in the second half.”

Vanderbilt: The Commodores had won their previous two trips to Starkville. Coach Kevin Stallings is now 10-11 all-time against Mississippi State.

Mississippi State: Freshman guard Maurice Dunlap missed his eighth straight game due to wrist and hamstring injuries. Fred Thomas scored all 10 of his points in the second half, including a stretch of six points in 38 seconds.

Vanderbilt travels to Kentucky on Tuesday. Mississippi State plays at Auburn on Wednesday.