Hoops: MSU 64, Tennessee 61

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Anybody see this coming in November? Me either. But your 2008-09 SEC Tournament champions are the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who edged Tennessee 64-61 today in Tampa. Assistant coach Marcus Grant, a former Bulldog player, saw it coming. “We knew we were going to be young, but I saw the talent level there,” he said. “We just knew if the guys could progress during the season, at the end we’d have a chance like we did.”

The Vols had plenty of chances at the end but couldn’t hit the shot they needed, and State played some tough defense and hit free throws.

“I think those were the longest (23.4) seconds of my life,” said Phil Turner, who gave State the lead for good with an ice-cold 3-pointer at the 1:34 mark. He also made two free throws with 8.0 seconds left for the final margin, and he grabbed the defensive rebound when UT’s 3-point try missed. A wild celebration ensued.

This is MSU’s first tourney title since 2002, and it got here by winning four times in four days, including wins over three higher-seeded teams. Now, the Bulldogs (23-12), who just burst a bunch of bubbles, awaits their placement in the NCAA tournament. The selection show is at 5 p.m. Central on CBS. The Bulldogs will stay here at St. Pete Times Forum to watch it.

“We busted that bubble. That’s all that matters,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said.

Barry Stewart (11 points) and Jarvis Varnado (10 points, 7 rebounds) made the all-tournament team, and Varnado earned MVP honors. Varnado struggled early and sat the final 5:46 of the first half with two fouls. “I thought the first half Jarvis was kind of spent. I think he played that way,” Stansbury said. “To his credit, he found a way to dig in when he didn’t have anything left. And that was the key to that game.”

That was the theme for MSU: Finding a way. During a timeout with about six minutes to go, Stansbury saw “that look” in the eyes of his starters. “We were going to find a way. We’ve come too far to give up now, and from that point on, I think we made the most effort plays.”

MSU won despite shooting just 7 of 28 from downtown. Tennessee was 8 of 27. UT out-rebounded State 47-39, but State once again made it to the free throw line, hitting 23 of 32. UT made 13 of 19.

OK, time for more quotes, starting with Stansbury:

• On Tampa: “What a great place to host this SEC Tournament. The weather was absolutely beautiful, and the experience couldn’t have been any better.”

• On Turner: “He’s 178 pounds, he guards most fours, he guarded (Wayne) Chism today a bunch. He just finds ways to use his energy and his quickness and his toughness to offset what he doesn’t have. ”

• On UT’s final 3-point attempt, by Cameron Tatum: “We were going to foul, and Bruce (Pearl) knew we were going to foul. Phil kind of ran over there and jumped on (Bobby) Maze a little too long.  We let Tatum get a shot off – we hadn’t planned to do that, to be honest with you.”

From Turner:

• On the big 3-pointer: “I got a couple of big offensive rebounds earlier, and I think that was what got my blood pumping.”

• On the game’s end: “Words can’t really explain the feeling that all your teammates are happy with you, happy with your performance.”

• On making big plays down the stretch (deflections, free throws): “Right then wasn’t the time to be tired, so I definitely wasn’t tired. We saw what we wanted, and everybody that played today went after the same goal.”

From Ravern Johnson:

• On UT’s fatigue: “I think we pretty much ran them tired. They started walking the ball up. That was to our strength, because playing half-court defense is our strong set.”

Finally, from MVP Varnado:

• “I just thank God for it, man. Without Him, none of this would’ve been possible. Coming down here we knew we had to win four games. I told everybody we were on a mission.”

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6 Responses to “Hoops: MSU 64, Tennessee 61”

  1. darkcooger Says:

    Nevermind the conversation about talent, skill, or coaching. How about the class? I’ve been a Bulldog fan my entire life and I’ve been following basketball since the 1994/1995 season, and I can honestly say this team is right there among the classiest teams we’ve had. I wish the Hump wasn’t 3.5 hours away, so I’m going to ask someone here that’s going to cheer a little bit harder on my behalf!

    Go Dawgs! Put on your shiny shoes, boys: it’s time to go dancing!

  2. thespear Says:

    wow we got ripped by the committee,

    13 seed playing washington in portland, oregan

    i thought we deserved a 11 or 12 at least.

    But hey, i think we do well with the lack of respect factor

  3. darkcooger Says:

    13 seed versus Washington in Portland. Go Bulldogs! Destroy those Huskies!

  4. kstorey395 Says:

    That 13 seed is a knock on the conference…

  5. darkcooger Says:

    The Dawgs are on their way home. Again, I’m asking for someone who’s going to give an extra shout for me!

  6. mathistondawg Says:

    Awesome. Simply awesome.

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