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January 27, 2011

VU snaps 18-year losing streak in Starkville

Vanderbilt overcame a nine-point second-half deficit behind 25 points and one huge steal from Jeffery Taylor, as the Commodores beat Mississippi State in Starkville for the first time since 1993 by an 81-74 score.

With the Commodores nursing a three-point lead, Taylor jumped in the passing lane and picked off Brian Bryant's pass in the backcourt, and threw down a thunderous dunk as Bryant fouled him with 16 seconds left.

Taylor missed the free throw, but John Jenkins rebounded Ravern Johnson's miss and hit a pair of free throws with six seconds left to seal the game for the Commodores (15-4, 3-2 Southeastern Conference), who snapped an eight-game losing streak in Starkville.

VU led 15-9 early, but trailed 37-33 at the half as it shot just 35.3 percent before the break.

"Our locker room was not a pretty scene at halftime. We got after them more than we had all season long. We weren't playing with a degree of toughness and a degree of passion," VU coach Kevin Stallings said.

"We were playing hard but not hard enough. I was proud of Jeff Taylor because he got an earful form three or four guys at half, and he really responded."

The "pep talk" seemed to get VU's attention, but still, the 'Dores still couldn't seem to shake the Bulldogs. MSU (13-6, 2-3) held the lead for the first 5:36 of the second half, when Taylor hit a pair of free throws with 14:24 left.

"We couldn't really get anything to fall. The only person who played well was John (Jenkins). Even in the second half at the beginning we weren't on the top of our game," Taylor said.

"We just got into a huddle and said, what kind of team are we going to be this year? Are we going to be the kind of team that wins on the road? And we decided we had to go out there and make it happen."

But MSU ran off eight unanswered points in a 45-second span, taking a 61-53 lead with 10:07 left as Dee Bost hit a 3-pointer.

The lead increased to nine when Kodi Augustus hit a jumper with 9:21 left.

That's when Taylor and Jenkins took over.

Taylor hit a 3 on VU's next possession, and after an MSU miss, the junior hit a lay-up to cut the score to 63-59. MSU's Riley Benock answered with a 3-pointer, but VU's Lance Goulbourne converted a three-point play on a dunk and a foul shot on the next trip.

VU threatened to put the game away as Jenkins scored the game's next nine points in a 1:28 span that put the 'Dores up 71-66. The last came when Jenkins drew the fifth foul on MSU's Renardo Sidney and hit a pair of foul shots.

MSU scored the next six points, re-taking the lead 72-71 with 3:34 remaining after Johnson hit two free throws. But that's when VU's defense clamped down, holding State to two points the rest of the way and closing the evening on a 10-2 run.

Another key element of the comeback was VU's 2-2-1 zone press, which Stallings utilized with 9:50 left in the second half after Taylor hit a free throw. Vanderbilt trailed 61-54 at that point.

"When we got down by eight points, I decided to go to our press and I think that turned the game back in to our favor," Stallings said. "The press definitely helped slow down the momentum and assisted in our zone defense as well. We had to be the aggressor and we stayed that way through the rest of the game.

"[The press] changed the entire game in my opinion. I told the coaches I wish we had done it before in a couple of games we lost," he added later. "We're not a pressing team but when we got down eight we had to do something. (MSU) got tentative and then it helped our offense. Our zone became better because of it. That was the key to the game for us."

"I want to give Vanderbilt credit," said MSU head coach Rick Stansbury. "They made the plays you had to win the game. That is a sign of a very good basketball team, and I said a long time ago that they are one of the better teams in the league. Vanderbilt has a lot of toughness and Kevin does a great job with his team."

Vanderbilt was 26-of-62 from the field for just 41 percent, including 8-for-29 from 3.

The 29 3-point attempts were a season high. The Commodores were also 21-for-31 from the free throw line.

MSU was not much better from the field, shooting 44 percent on 26-of-58. The Bulldogs were just barely better than VU from 3, making just eight of 27.

Both teams had 38 rebounds.

Taylor went 9-of-18 from the field, and scored eight-straight points for the 'Dores at one point early in the second half.

Jenkins had 21, including 9-of-9 from the foul line.

Festus Ezeli scored 14 points on a 5-of-5 shooting performance, but played just 15 minutes due to foul trouble.

Goulbourne scored 12 points, and came within one rebound of a third-straight double-double.

The Commodores return home on Saturday for a 5 p.m. game with Arkansas (13-6, 3-3).


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