On the Portland Links

March 18, 2009 by

Good morning from the fair city of Portland, Ore., and forgive the belated posting of this blog. Hey, I’m two hours behind you, but I’ll use Central times for everything, for your sake.

Here is that story I promised you about Jarvis Varnado taking on Washington’s Jon Brockman, a 6-foot-7, 255-pound senior. He’s called a “warrior” by one old coach, who says in this Seattle Times story that Brockman could play in any era (I think most good basketball players could, but hey). As good as Brockman is, the Huskies have gotten this far thanks to a true team effort, kind of like MSU.

The Detroit News offered its breakdown of the West Region, noting that State is not “a particularly gifted team offensively.” Well, it’s true that the Bulldogs rank 10th in the SEC in field goal percentage (43.5), but they’re fourth in 3-point percentage (36.3) and fifth in scoring (74.8). You decide.

So here’s the schedule for today: MSU’s session with the media starts at 2 p.m. (noon here) at the Rose Garden, then the Bulldogs hold an open practice from 2:45-3:25 p.m. I’ll also sit in on Washington’s press conference and watch its practice at 4:15. I’ll be filing a couple of stories for tomorrow’s Journal, and of course blogging like a madman. And of course, Twittering, which if you’re not signed up for, you need to. Follow me at bradlocke for annoyingly frequent updates.

PS: The MSU baseball team fell to Southern Miss in Pearl last night, 10-7.

More MSU-UW Links

March 17, 2009 by

Yours truly is currently sitting in Dallas/Forth Worth International, trying to get the most out of the $5.99 I just charged the Daily Journal for Internet access. I just filed a story for tomorrow’s paper focusing on the matchup between Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado and Washington big man Jon Brockman, who’s a two-time All-Pac-10 first-teamer. There are many interesting matchups to watch in this game, and this is a pretty good breakdown.

Now, a question: If MSU beats Washington, how big an upset is it? A couple of CBSSports guys don’t see it happening, and Seth Davis of SI.com does not forecast this as one of his upset specials. So will anyone give the Bulldogs some love? Here we go: FoxSports.com compiled a list of players who could be “This Year’s Stephen Curry,” a player who could take his team on an unexpected run, and one of those 10 is Varnado himself.

And here’s a blog you need to follow, Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times.

By the way, the Big Dance has already started, with Morehead State battling Alabama State in the play-in game (oops, not supposed to call it that). Now, I go in search of supper and will check back with y’all in the morning.

Portland-bound

March 17, 2009 by

Mississippi State leaves for Portland, Ore., today, as do I. The No. 13-seeded Bulldogs open up the NCAA tournament Thursday against No. 4 seed Washington, but they wouldn’t have made it there without the play of Phil Turner. Or Jarvis Varnado, who was named first-team All-SEC by the Associated Press. Speaking of Varnado, here’s how Washington plans to deal with him. And here’s the blog of Seattle Times writer Bob Condotta, who also wrote about the matchup between State’s Dee Bost and Washington point guard Isaiah Thomas – both are freshmen.

The Lady Bulldogs are going dancing, too, you might have heard. They’ll be a No. 11 seed and will play No. 6 seed Texas at 11 a.m. Saturday (ESPN2) in Columbus, Ohio. That’s the same day the MSU men, if they win Thursday, would play against the Northern Iowa-Purdue winner.

One more thing: Today’s column from sports editor John L. Pitts. Enjoy, and Happy St. Patrick’s Day.

NCAA Links Aplenty

March 16, 2009 by

About to get back on that road from Macon, Geo., to Tupelo. Then get ready for the trip to Portland. Just enough time here for some quick linkage action, starting with the stories from today’s Daily Journal:

MSU 64, Tennessee 61

MSU punches NCAA ticket

Up next: Washington

From other newspapers out west, the Huskies are a bit stunned about their “tough draw” in the first round. So is columnist Art Thiel, who essentially asks, Where’s the cream puff? MSU and Washington meet Thursday at about 4 p.m. Central at the Rose Garden, and the Portland Tribune says the event is already sold out.

OK, friends, back on that road I go.

Bulldogs Headed to Portland

March 15, 2009 by

As you’ve probably heard, Mississippi State was given a No. 13 seed and will play fourth-seeded Washington, the Pac-10 regular-season champ, on Thursday in Portland in the West Region. The Huskies are 25-8 and lost to USC in the Pac-10 tournament title game. Here is some reaction from Bulldog coach Rick Stansbury and a couple of his players.

Stansbury:

• On the seed: “Thirteen seed is great compared to when we woke up to this morning. We’re happy just to be in it. We’re not concerned where we’re going, or who we’re playing. We’re very happy to be a part of it.”

• “We know Washington’s a veteran team, and a very talented team. But this time of year, everybody’s a good team. We’ve just got to find a way to be the best team a few more times.”

• “I think this experience we just went through, that’s a championship experience. The team last year had been through some championship experiences already, this one hadn’t. We just came out of a championship experience. That kind of environment, that kind of energy, that kind of one-and-done attitude, that’s all it was for us.”

Jarvis Varnado:

• “It’s just amazing, you know. We weren’t expected to win the SEC Tournament, coming in here and winning it and seeing our names across that board, it’s just a great feeling.”

Phil Turner:

• “We’re just happy to be here. We’re just going to go down and take the same attitude that we’ve been taking these last couple of games, and that’s just go down and play hard and play together.”

• “It’s been a real emotional day. A lot of ups and downs in the game. What more can you ask for? We won, we’re SEC champs, and getting in the tournament, that’s it.”

Hoops: MSU 64, Tennessee 61

March 15, 2009 by

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.”

Photos from Miss. State SEC Tourney Win

March 15, 2009 by

SEC Mississippi St Tennessee Basketball

Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury, center, celebrates with his team a 64-61 win over Tennessee in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference NCAA college basketball tournament in Tampa, Fla., Sunday, March 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

SEC Mississippi St Tennessee Basketball

Mississippi State’s Jarvis Varnado cuts down the net to celebrate his team’s 64-61 win over Tennessee in the championship game of the Southeastern Conference NCAA college basketball tournament in Tampa, Fla., Sunday, March 15, 2009. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Click here for a slideshow of photos from the Bulldogs win.

MSU-Tennessee: Official Championship Game Thread

March 15, 2009 by

For the first time since 2002, Mississippi State will try to win the SEC Tournament title. The Bulldogs (22-12) and Tennessee (21-11) can be seen on CBS, with Verne Lundquist and Bill “And the Kiss!” Raftery on the call. Should State win, the coaches and players will stick around St. Pete Times Forum for the NCAA selection show (5 p.m. Central, CBS). Otherwise, it’s go home and see where they land in the NIT. A fine season no matter what happens.

MSU football coach Dan Mullen is in the house. He’ll watch State try to avenge an 81-76 loss to the Volunteers on Feb. 25, and also try to be the first Western Division team since its last title to win the SEC tourney. Of greater importance is earning that automatic NCAA tournament bid, which appears to be the only way the Bulldogs will get to go dancing.

I expect a close game, but here is a stat to consider: In its 94-85 win over Auburn yesterday, UT shot 57.6 percent from the floor. In its 67-57 win over LSU, MSU hit just 33.3 percent of its shots. But the Tigers are second in the SEC in scoring defense, while the Vols are 11th.

OK, to the basics:

TV: CBS.
XM: Channel 199.
Series: Tennessee leads 74-38.
Last meeting: Tennessee, 81-76 on Feb. 25 in Knoxville.
Coaches: MSU – Rick Stansbury (230-127, 11th year); Tennessee – Bruce Pearl (415-119, 17th year; 98-35, fourth year at Tennessee).
Notes: Tennessee is the Eastern Division No. 1 seed; MSU is the West No. 3. … Last time these teams met in the SEC Tournament was 1999, with MSU winning 62-56 in the second round. … UT’s Pearl has led his teams to seven straight 20-win seasons. … MSU’s Jarvis Varnado has 13 blocks over his last two games.

Probable starters
Mississippi State (22-12, 12-7 SEC)

C – Jarvis Varnado    6-9    Jr.    13.1
G – Phil Turner    6-3    So.    8.4
G – Dee Bost    6-2    Fr.    11.2
G – Barry Stewart    6-3    Jr.    12.4
G – Ravern Johnson    6-7    So.    12.2
Top reserves: F Kodi Augustus, G Twany Beckham, F Brian Johnson.

Tennessee (21-11, 12-6 SEC)
C – Wayne Chism    6-9    Jr.    13.8 ppg
F – Tyler Smith    6-7    Jr.    17.4 ppg
G – J.P. Prince    6-7    Jr.    10.0 ppg
G – Scotty Hopson    6-7    Fr.    9.3 ppg
G – Bobby Maze    6-2    Jr.    8.5 ppg
Top reserves: G Josh Tabb, G Cameron Tatum, C Brian Williams.

SEC Championship: First Look

March 15, 2009 by

It won’t be so much about Scotty Hopson this time. At least, not to the degree it was prior to the Feb. 25 meeting between Mississippi State and Tennessee. Hopson, a 6-foot-7 freshman, was the biggest storyline around Starkville, having signed with UT after committing to MSU. To add injury to insult, he scored a game-high 21 points in the Volunteers’ 81-76 win in Knoxville.

Today, Hopson is just one part of the picture. State and Tennessee square off at noon in the SEC Tournament championship game (CBS). “I guess there was a little pressure on me, knowing it seemed I had to play well in the earlier situation, but now, it’s just going out and playing basketball, executing our game plan and just trying to get an SEC Tournament win,” Hopson said following his team’s 94-85 win over Auburn on Saturday.

MSU (22-12) is a different team than it was two-and-a-half weeks ago. It’s won five straight, owns three double-digit wins in the tourney, and is playing with an energy that no team has been able to match in Tampa – except for maybe Tennessee (21-11). The Vols are just as hot, winning five of their last six. “We’re just together as a team now,” junior forward Tyler Smith said. “That’s what we’ve been looking for all year.”

So what happens when two hot teams collide? Fireworks, we hope. “They’re playing with confidence and playing a lot better, so right now we’re going to have to step up to that and match their intensity and their confidence and keep playing well like we’ve been doing,” said Hopson.

Wayne Chism, who’ll match up with State center Jarvis Varnado, scored a career-high 27 points against Auburn. Varnado scored 19 with seven blocks in a 67-57 win over LSU on Saturday. UT coach Bruce Pearl has two main concerns, one strategic – “We struggled in ball-screen defense today, and they’ll spread us and ball-screen us.” – the other physical – “Small-bodied guys recover quickly.” Tennessee writer Mike Strange fleshes out that aspect.

This game could come down to desire. MSU has plenty to play for – an NCAA tournament berth. But so do the Vols. “They’re fighting for their NCAA life, and we’re fighting for a great seed,” Chism said. “It goes both ways.”

Hoops: MSU 67, LSU 57

March 14, 2009 by

For the first time this season, Mississippi State beat LSU. And for the first time since 2003, MSU is in the SEC Tournament championship game. It gets Tennessee, which beat Auburn 94-85 in the other semi, at noon Sunday (CBS). The Bulldogs (22-12, 12-7 SEC) were led by Jarvis Varnado‘s 19 points, and his seven blocks give him 159 on the season, breaking Shaquille O’Neal‘s SEC single-season record of 157. Barry Stewart added 17 points and was the only other Bulldog in double digits. The biggest key for State: Holding Tasmin Mitchell (15 points) and Marcus Thornton (14 points) in check. Thornton scored 32 in the first meeting, Mitchell 41 in the second. The secret today? Mixing up defenders on Mitchell, who was checked by Phil Turner, Kodi Augustus and Varnado at various times.

“It changed Tasmin’s mentality. He went at Phil about twice there in that post, (we) made the switch, and I think he shot a jump shot the next time down and missed it,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. Mitchell shot 7 of 18 from the floor, while Thornton was 5 of 19. “You look at that shot chart with Thornton, and he is the most difficult player to guard 1-on-1 in this league,” Stansbury said. “He scores 14 points, and Stew is on him most of the night.”

MSU won despite shooting just 33.3 percent (20 of 60) from the floor, including 18.8 percent (3 of 16) from 3-point range. LSU was just as bad, making 31.0 percent of its shots (22 of 71) and 25.0 percent from deep (4 of 16). The difference came at the free throw line, where State was 24 of 35 to LSU’s 9 of 13. Stewart was 10 of 12. LSU got whistled for 26 personal fouls to MSU’s 13. As physical at the game got at times, the teams combined for just 13 turnovers.

Now, the attention turns to getting into the NCAA tournament. A win today guarantees nothing for MSU, but Stansbury made a case for his team anyway (I’ll columnize on this for tomorrow’s Journal). He said, “I know this: We’re 7-1 against the East, we’re 9-7 coming into this (tournament). Being 9-7, two of those games were double-overtime losses, where we would’ve had have the second-best record in the league, and one of them was to LSU. Four road wins, 4-4 on the road in the SEC, and you’ve gone to the finals of the SEC Tournament.

“So you start breaking that down, who becomes the third and fourth team to get in? You guys make the case, as long as you make the right one.”

More quotes, starting with Stansbury:

• On the difference between this game and the last LSU meeting: “We shot too many threes in Starkville against them. … Tonight we drove the ball and didn’t settle for 3-pointers.”

• On his bench’s play (13 points, 14 rebounds): “This time of year is when your bench has got to be its best. I think our bench is no question playing its best. It helps your chemistry, everybody’s playing together, that bench is coming in and adding to.”

From Turner:

• On playing a fourth game in as many days: “Yeah, we’ve played a couple games back-to-back, but playing for a championship is enough motivation enough to keep pushing through.”

From Stewart:

• On getting the best of Garrett Temple, who committed four fouls: “He’s a great defensive player, so he gets into you. I felt like I had to attack more than relying on my jump shot.”

From Varnado:

• On being covered 1-on-1: “I just went at Chris Johnson and the rest of their bigs. I played loose, was able to block a few shots and rebound the ball.”

LSU coach Trent Johnson:

• On MSU’s postseason résumé: “My feeling about Mississippi State is, the West is pretty strong, wouldn’t you think?”

From Thornton:

• On his team’s frustration: “I think we kind of got unraveled at times, because the calls weren’t going our way all the time. They beat us to loose balls, they did everything that had to do to win the game.”

And finally, Mitchell:

• On MSU’s defense: “I don’t think they did anything different, we just weren’t making shots. … Sometimes we had good looks, sometimes we didn’t. It wasn’t nothing different they did, they just came out and played good basketball”

MSU-LSU: Official Game Thread

March 14, 2009 by

LIVE FROM TAMPA

For the third time since 2002, MSU and LSU square off in the semifinals of the SEC Tournament here at St. Pete Times Forum. The Bulldogs and Tigers played each other in the ’02 and ’03 semis, with State victorious both times. MSU won the whole shebang in 2002 but lost in the 2003 final.

So what can a win mean for MSU today, beyond a berth in the title game? Perhaps nothing more than a better NIT seed. Because NCAA bracketology experts like Jerry Palm aren’t giving the Dogs the time of day. But a win will give them a chance to earn the automatic berth Sunday against the Auburn-Tennessee winner. First things first, of course, and that’s trying to beat LSU, which has defeated State twice this year.

Here are the basics:

TV: Raycom; live streaming on ESPN360.com.
XM: Channel 199.
Series: LSU leads 103-92.
Last two meetings: LSU, 97-94 (2OT) on Feb. 11 in Starkville; LSU, 81-57 on Jan. 21 in Baton Rouge.
Coaches: MSU – Rick Stansbury (229-127, 11th year); LSU – Trent Johnson (185-127, 10th year; 26-6, first year at LSU).
Notes: LSU is seeking its first SEC Tournament title since 1980. … Last time MSU and LSU met in the semifinals was 2003, with the Bulldogs winning 76-61. … MSU is shooting 49.3 percent from the field over its last four games. … State’s Jarvis Varnado has 152 blocks this season, five shy of Shaquille O’Neal’s SEC single-season record, which Varnado tied last year.

Probable starters
Mississippi State (21-12, 11-7 SEC)

C – Jarvis Varnado    6-9    Jr.    13.0 ppg
G – Phil Turner    6-3    So.    8.5 ppg
G – Dee Bost    6-2    Fr.    11.3 ppg
G – Barry Stewart    6-3    Jr.    12.2 ppg
G – Ravern Johnson    6-7    So.    12.4 ppg
Top reserves: F Kodi Augustus, G Twany Beckham, F Brian Johnson.

LSU (26-6, 14-3 SEC)
G – Marcus Thornton    6-4    Sr.    20.9 ppg
G – Garrett Temple    6-6    Sr.    7.1 ppg
G – Bo Spencer    6-1    So.    11.7 ppg
F – Tasmin Mitchell    6-7    Jr.    16.4 ppg
C – Chris Johnson    6-11    Sr.    7.9 ppg
Top reserves: G Terry Martin, F Quinton Thornton.

Breaking Out the Bubblescope

March 14, 2009 by

I’m no national basketball expert, but ESPN.com has some guys who are. And this is their latest look at who’s in and who could be in the NCAA tournament field. You’ll notice Mississippi State has not yet attained bubble status in ESPN’s eyes. That could change with a win today. What State does not need is someone like, say, Baylor to up and win a conference tournament. That’s the only way the Bears are getting in despite a 20-win season (5-11 in the Big 12 hurts).

In fact, according to my calculations, only four of the 41 BCS teams with 20 wins have no shot of an NCAA berth – Baylor, Kansas State, Kentucky and MSU. Baylor and State could earn the automatic, of course. And like I said, a win today plus a loss tomorrow might get the Bulldogs in – might.

Here is a summary of the BCS conference teams ESPN.com thinks is a lock and who is not – yet:

ACC: In – Boston College, Clemson, Duke, Florida St., North Carolina, Wake Forest; Bubble: Maryland
Big 10: In – Illinois, Michigan St., Ohio St., Purdue; Bubble: Michigan, Minnesota, Penn State, Wisconsin
Big 12: In – Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Oklahoma St., Texas, Texas A&M; Bubble: None
Big East: In – UConn, Louisville, Marquette, Syracuse, Pitt, Villanova, West Virginia; Bubble: Providence
Pac-10: In – Arizona St., Cal, UCLA, Washington; Bubble: Arizona, USC
SEC: In – LSU, Tennessee; Bubble: Auburn, Florida, South Carolina

Throw non-BCS bubble teams into the mix, and it gets even more complicated. Here’s what ESPN.com had to say:

“So assuming a bubble outsider doesn’t win one of the six BCS football-playing league tournaments left to be decided – and that Memphis (Conference USA), Utah State (WAC) and Utah (Mountain West) win their respective conference tournaments – there are seven at-large spots left for 15 teams left on the bubble.”

SEC Semifinals: First Look

March 14, 2009 by

The SEC Tournament’s final four is set for today. At noon Central, it’s Mississippi State and LSU in Round 3. The Bulldogs, behind Barry Stewart‘s hot hand, knocked off South Carolina, 82-68, on Friday, while LSU topped Kentucky, 67-58. The Tigers won the two regular season meetings against State, 81-57 in Baton Rouge and 97-94 in double-overtime in Starkville.

One thing to watch for today: LSU’s shooting. The Tigers (26-6) have hit less than 40 percent of their shots in each of their last three games, the first two of which were losses. MSU (21-12), conversely, has shot 49.3 percent from the floor during its current four-game winning streak.

In Friday’s other action, Tennessee manhandled Alabama, 86-62, and Auburn edged Florida, 61-58. The Volunteers (20-11) and Tigers (22-10) meet at 2:15 p.m. Central today in the other semi. On Feb. 7, Auburn edged UT 78-77 and sparked the War Eagles’ current run, in which they’ve won nine of their last 10 games. What that win over Florida did was keep Auburn’s NCAA tournament hopes alive.

Speaking of NCAA dreams, MSU could jump on the bubble with a win over LSU today. Some think they could jump all the way in. The Bulldogs have 11 SEC wins – nine in the regular season – but their RPI entering the tournament was 78 (South Carolina’s was 49, by the way). LSU’s RPI coming in was 38 after dropping its last two regular-season games.

PS: Baseball doubleheader vs. South Carolina starting at 3 p.m. today, weather permitting.

Hoops: MSU 82, South Carolina 68

March 13, 2009 by

Mississippi State is back in the SEC Tournament semifinals, where it lost to Georgia last year. This time, SEC Western Division champ LSU is the opponent. Tipoff Saturday is noon Central. Barry Stewart scored 18 of his game-high 21 points in the second half, making 4 of 6 from 3-point range and 6 of 11 overall. He had three big threes in the second half to help MSU (21-12, 11-7 SEC) surge ahead of South Carolina (21-9, 10-7). His final 3-ball gave the Bulldogs the lead for good at 58-55 with 7:01 to go. “Sometimes you just feel it, and when the shots are falling you just keep shooting,” Stewart said. “The stepback is a move I’ve worked on, I don’t show it much, but I was just feeling it tonight.”

Dee Bost scored 14 points for State, while Jarvis Varnado added 12 to go with nine rebounds and six blocks. He has 152 blocks this season and is six away from passing Shaquille O’Neal for the single-season record (Varnado tied the mark last year). O’Neal, of course, played for LSU, tomorrow’s opponent. “When Jarvis is playing with the energy he’s played with over the last two or three weeks, he’s pretty good in there,” MSU coach Rick Stansbury said. “In these first two games here, he’s playing with great energy.”

Ravern Johnson added 11 points for State, which shot 46.6 percent from the field and 53.3 percent (8 of 15) from 3-point range. MSU out-rebounded South Carolina 50-36(!), which helped offset losing the turnover battle (15-5).  Zam Fredrick led the Gamecocks with 20 points, while Dominique Archie added 16. Point guard Devan Downey was held to 11 on 5-of-20 shooting. Kudos to MSU freshman Dee Bost for leading that effort. Said Downey, “What you want me to say, dog? As far as I’m concerned, he outplayed me two games.”

More quotes from the postgame session, starting with Stansbury:

• “I thought Barry Stewart absolutely took over offensively for us. Jarvis, as he’s been lately in every game, has dominated that post, rebounded that basketball. That was a huge stat, not giving them putbacks, except when we went in that zone.”

• On keeping Downey out of the paint: “No. 1, we were going to try go keep him out of there. When he gets in there, make him shoot it versus dishing it off. For the most part, that probably worked about as well as it can work.”

• On overcoming an early 10-point deficit: “Our bench came in and got us back in that game, re-energized us, closed the gap.”

From Bost:

• On SC’s defense: “First half, they scouted us very well, because teams put two defenders at the top and try to slow me down. The second half, we got stops, and Jarvis got rebounds, and he got it out to me.”

• On “outplaying” Downey: “I honestly wouldn’t call it outplaying him, because he’s probably one of the top points guards in the country. I knew coming into the game I had to stay down in my stance the whole game.”

MSU guard Phil Turner:

• On fatigue factor: “We’re in great shape, but sometimes when you play those many minutes and playing these hard games, it kind of wears on your body. Now our bench is starting to play well for us, and I think our bench has been the difference in how we’ve been playing.”

Finally, SC coach Darrin Horn:

• “In the second half we let them get loose for few threes and went through some periods where we weren’t good offensively.”

MSU-South Carolina: Official Game Thread

March 13, 2009 by

LIVE FROM TAMPA

Moments away from tipoff between Mississippi State and South Carolina in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament. It’s a rematch of a Feb. 18 meeting in Starkville, which MSU won 75-70. State comes in having won three straight games. South Carolina, which had a first-round bye, has lost two of its last three.

So, can the Gamecocks figure out a way to get past MSU this time? Will Devan Downey take over for South Carolina? Will Kodi Augustus continue his stellar play off the bench for State? Will the Bulldogs’ shots keep falling? We shall see.

The basics:

TV: Raycom; live streaming on ESPN360.com.
XM: Channel 199.
Series: MSU leads 12-8.
Last meeting: MSU, 75-70 on Feb. 18 in Starkville.
Coaches: MSU – Rick Stansbury (228-127, 11th year); South Carolina – Darrin Horn (132-56, sixth year; 21-8, first year at South Carolina).
Notes: MSU has won three straight. … Ravern Johnson scored a game-high 20 points for MSU in the last meeting. … South Carolina’s Devan Downey is first in the SEC in steals with 3.0 per game. … State is the West No. 3 seed, South Carolina the East No. 2.

Probable starters
Mississippi State (20-12, 10-7 SEC)

C – Jarvis Varnado    6-9    Jr.    13. ppg
G – Phil Turner    6-3    G    8.5 ppg
G – Dee Bost    6-2    Fr.    11.3 ppg
G – Barry Stewart    6-3    Jr.    11.9 ppg
G – Ravern Johnson    6-7    So.    12.5 ppg
Top reserves: F Kodi Augustus, G Twany Beckham, F Brian Johnson.

South Carolina (21-8, 10-6 SEC)
G – Devan Downey    5-9    Jr.    20.2 ppg
G – Zam Fredrick    6-0    Sr.    15.5 ppg
F – Sam Muldrow    6-9    So.    5.8 ppg
F – Dominique Archie    6-7    Jr.    10.9 ppg
C – Mike Holmes    6-7    So.    10.9 ppg
Top reserves: G Brandis Raley-Ross, F Evaldas Baniulis, F Austin Steed.

Better Late Than Never; & Much More

March 13, 2009 by

It’s a fair question: Where would Mississippi State be if Kodi Augustus had been in the lineup and playing like this sooner? Would the Bulldogs have gotten past LSU in that double-overtime game? Would they have given Auburn a better shot? We’ll never know, of course, but we do know that Augustus’ sudden rise makes MSU as much a contender as anyone in the SEC Tournament. His 19 points off the bench in yesterday’s 79-60 win over Georgia illustrated just what the Bulldogs are capable of with him on the floor. (Don’t ask me why the headline calls him a freshman. That’s not in the story.)

Augustus did it all in 17 minutes of work. Starter Phil Turner, who sat when Augustus played, doesn’t mind sharing the workload. Expect the two to split minutes again today when the Bulldogs (20-12, 10-7 SEC) battle South Carolina (21-8, 10-6) at 2:15 p.m. Central. The winner will face the Kentucky-LSU winner (noon today) in the semifinals Saturday at noon. It can all be seen on Raycom or ESPN360.com.

In other news, MSU and South Carolina will also match up on the baseball diamond today. State opens its SEC slate at Dudy Noble Field, and coach John Cohen hopes his Bulldogs aren’t too overmatched.

An interesting note from track and field: An injury to another athlete allowed MSU’s Marrissa Harris to enter the NCAA Indoor Track Championships, which start today in College Station, Texas. This will be Harris’ second trip to the NCAAs, where she will compete in the 60-meter hurdles.

And finally, you might be wondering what took me so dang long to post something. It’s because I didn’t turn out the lights until 1:30 a.m. Why? That little six-overtime affair at Madison Square Garden, that’s why. But it’s OK, I have coffee now.

Hoops: MSU 79, Georgia 60

March 12, 2009 by

Kodi Augustus turned in another strong performance off the bench, scoring 19 points in 17 minutes for Mississippi State, which recorded its largest margin of victory ever in the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs (20-12), the Western Division No. 3 seed, play East No. 2 South Carolina (21-8) at 2:15 p.m. Central tomorrow. Augustus was 6 of 9 from the floor, including 3 of 4 from 3-point range. “Last year Coach (Rick) Stansbury said to me after our semifinal win in the tournament against his team, he thought that Albert Jackson was the player that made us much better in the tournament inside,” Georgia coach Pete Herrmann said. “And I told Kodi Augustus after the game today that he could be that type of player for Mississippi State.”

While Augustus is indeed a difference-maker, the Bulldogs once again showed great offensive balance. For the third straight game, 10 Bulldogs got in the scoring column. Jarvis Varnado had 14 points and 12 rebounds, while Ravern Johnson added 12 points. “Everybody’s getting to play, and the weight’s not all on one guy’s shoulders,” said guard Phil Turner. “Not really playing time, but the responsibility is distributed evenly around our team now.”

MSU shot 50.9 percent from the field (28 of 55), including 37.5 percent from 3-point range (9 of 24). Georgia hit 41.9 percent (26 of 62) and 36.8 percent (7 of 19).

Some more thoughts from coaches and players, starting with Stansbury:

• On Augustus: “No question his effort has gotten better, and it starts mentally with him. Sometimes it just takes, I don’t have the answer for sure, some kids respond differently than other kids. That light has come on that he wants the opportunity to play. It came out in practice, not the game. ”

• On holding Terrance Woodbury in check (14 points, 2 in first half): “When he scores points for them, when you look back over the games they’ve won, he’s been the guy that got them going. Barry Stewart did a terrific job on him.”

• “We make those shots, we’re really good. We don’t, then you better depend on your rebounding and defending a little bit more. I think we’ve gotten better at that the last couple of weeks.”

• On South Carolina: “It’s very obvious South Carolina is a difficult matchup for everybody. They’ve got the best guard in this league, one of the best guards in the country from the standpoint of trying to keep him out of the paint.”

Now, Augustus:

• On his confidence: “It’s always been high, but I guess even better now because it’s starting to show and I’m producing when I get in.”

From Turner, who’s bothered by a mysterious stomach bug:

• On Augustus: “Taking that beating every night from those big guys, it’s always fun to have somebody else come in there and not only contribute but really just change the whole team dynamic around. When I come it, it’s not as hard for me, because he’s already put in the work against it.”

Point guard Dee Bost:

• “I feel like we made some big shots, some 3-pointers, and got into the lane a lot, and we just created a lot of open shots.”

And finally, from Woodbury:

• On MSU’s small lineup: “It’s hard against our bigs because you have to play against them going up and down the court. I feel we couldn’t exploit those mismatches tonight like we wanted to.”

Georgia-MSU: Official Game Thread

March 12, 2009 by

LIVE FROM TAMPA

Here we are, set for a first-round SEC Tournament game between Mississippi State and Georgia. In last year’s tourney, Georgia beat MSU 64-60 in the semifinals en route to the tourney title. State is the Western Division No. 3 seed today, Georgia the East No. 6. The St. Pete Times Forum isn’t nearly as full as it was moments ago, but a few Kentucky fans are sticking around. The South Carolina Gamecocks are in the building to see who they’ll play in the second round – Georgia-MSU winner gets them tomorrow at 2:15 p.m. Central.

Here are the basics:

TV: Raycom; live streaming on ESPN360.com.
XM: Channel 199.
Series: MSU leads 50-49.
Last meeting: MSU, 67-61 on Jan. 24 in Athens, Ga.
Coaches: Georgia – Pete Herrmann (66-118, seventh year; 3-8, first year at Georgia); MSU – Rick Stansbury (227-127, 11th year).
Notes: This will be Rick Stansbury’s 355th game as MSU head coach, pushing him past Richard Williams into first place on the school’s all-time list for games coached. … MSU is 21-46 all-time in the SEC Tournament. … Georgia is the defending SEC Tournament champ. … Georgia is 8-2 against MSU in the tournament.

Probable starters
Georgia (12-19, 3-13 SEC)

G – Dustin Ware    5-11    Fr.    7.4 ppg
G – Corey Butler    6-3    Sr.    6.7 ppg
G/F – Terrance Woodbury    6-7    Sr.    14.0 ppg
F – Trey Thompkins    6-8    Fr.    12.7 ppg
F/C – Albert Jackson    6-10    Jr.    4.4 ppg
Top reserves: G Zac Swansey, F Chris Barnes, G Ricky McPhee.

Mississippi State (19-12, 9-7 SEC)
C – Jarvis Varnado    6-9    Jr.    13.0 ppg
G – Phil Turner    6-3    So.    8.5 ppg
G – Dee Bost    6-2    Fr.    11.5 ppg
G – Barry Stewart    6-3    Jr.    12.1 ppg
G – Ravern Johnson    6-7    So.    12.5 ppg
Top reserves: F Kodi Augustus, G Riley Benock, G Twany Beckham.

Hey, Kodi, the Shoe Ain’t Dropping

March 12, 2009 by

Kodi Augustus seems to be waiting for the other shoe to drop. Following his 13-point, seven-rebound performance against Ole Miss on Saturday, the sophomore reserve expressed disappointment that his increase in playing time was coming at season’s end. And he didn’t sound like someone confident it would continue into the SEC Tournament.

“Hopefully, I can keep playing,” he said Monday. “You never know with Coach (Rick) Stansbury, I’ll probably be sitting next game. You might not see me no more.”

I don’t think Augustus need worry. He’s earned the right to play significant minutes, and with Elgin Bailey going down with his ankle injury two games ago, Augustus is even more valuable in the post. The key for MSU against Georgia today (2:15 p.m., Raycom), and throughout this tournament, will likely be its bench play.

Since getting shut out against Auburn, the State reserves have totaled 53 points over the last two games. State beat Ole Miss despite point guard Dee Bost playing just six minutes in the first half with foul trouble, and with Barry Stewart and Jarvis Varnado fouling out in the second half. Needing to win four games in four days to take the title will require everything the Bulldog bench can provide.

“We’re not going to save anybody for the next one,” Stansbury said Wednesday. “We’re going to do whatever we have to do to win that first game.”

So get ready, Kodi. You’ll be in there.

On the Links: Day 1

March 12, 2009 by

Today’s the day: Day 1 of the SEC Tournament. Gotta win four times in four days to be the champs. Mississippi State is riding a two-game winning streak into Tampa, and it was sparked by a closed-door meeting last week. After State lost badly to Auburn, Coach Rick Stansbury stressed the need for better teamwork and energy, and he let a few players have their say, too. “After we had that Auburn loss, he really gave it to us. We needed that,” said junior Jarvis Varnado.

Also in today’s paper is an SEC Tournament notebook. Remember, today’s game is at 2:15 p.m. Central and can be seen on Raycom. From the Tampa Tribune, here’s an overview of the wide-open tourney. And the Atlanta Journal Constitution asks who might be this year’s Georgia.

In baseball, the Bulldogs swept a pair from Valparaiso. Luke Adkins‘ RBI groundout brought home the winning run in the ninth and capped a rally from 4-0 down in Game 2. More on the Diamond Dawgs in tomorrow’s Journal, as they prepare to open SEC play against South Carolina this weekend.