Kevin Stallings was not pleased. Now, that was for a number of reasons — mainly because No. 18 Vanderbilt had let a 14-point lead crumble to a one-point advantage in less than four minutes against Mississippi State on Wednesday night at Memorial Gymnasium.
But, at this particular moment, the Commodores’ veteran coach wasn’t happy with John Jenkins. Wanting his freshman guard to run out the clock a little bit more, Stallings stomped his feet when Jenkins decided to take the ball inside.
He was eventually fouled with six seconds left and made both of his free throws to lift Vanderbilt to a 75-72 victory. Stallings was hoping Jenkins would have played keep-away a little longer.
“I would have preferred that he dribbled that ball back out and he might have been able to take up the rest of the game,” he said. “But, at the very least, before they got to him it would have been two or three seconds. But that is why you play the games and get the experience so you can learn and make better decisions.”
Added Jenkins: “It was a freshman mistake. It won’t happen again.”
After Jenkins, an 85-percent shooter from the line, made both free throws, Mississippi State still had a chance to tie. But Dee Bost’s pull-up 3-pointer to the left of the key missed the rim.
Romero Osby grabbed the rebound and was fouled on the way back up with one second left. He missed his first free throw attempt. Then, after a Vanderbilt timeout, the second free throw attempt bounced out. The Bulldogs’ Barry Stewart grabbed the rebound but couldn’t get a shot off before the buzzer sounded.
“We never gave up,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “When it comes down to one play on the road — winning or losing — as a coach you'll take that. We just couldn't make the right play at the right time.”
The Bulldogs (16-6, 4-3 Southeastern Conference), who continue to play Vanderbilt tough, made enough plays to make it interesting.
The Commodores (17-4, 6-1) were up by as many as 14 points on two different occasions in the second half, including a 71-57 lead with 4:01 after a dunk by Festus Ezeli. But then the lead began to evaporate.
Stewart, a native of Shelbyville, Tenn., scored 11 of his 13 points in the next two minutes, trimming the deficit to 73-68 with 2:04 left. Bost scored the next four points, including a 3-pointer after a Jermaine Beal turnover, to pull the Bulldogs within one with 28 seconds left.
“I really felt good about it,” Stewart said of the Bulldogs’ run. “The crowd [another sellout] got quiet, they got on the edge of their seats. It felt good. But unfortunately we didn’t pull it off.
On the ensuing possession, instead of fouling, Mississippi State then tried to get Beal, who was bringing up the ball, to turn it over but he managed to slip out of several traps. The ball eventually ended up in Jenkins’ hands and set up the free throws.
But what looked like a big win for the Commodores after dropping their first league game Saturday on the road at Kentucky, turned into a nail-biter and raised some red flags.
“That was a little more interesting at the end than we wanted it to be. Our end of the game execution was really poor,” Stallings said. “We got tentative with the basketball and got careless with our passes and had our turnovers. We just had no flow going on offense. That was a little more interesting at the end than we wanted it to be.”
Beal led all scorers with 17 points, A.J. Ogilvy added 16, Jenkins had 12 and Brad Tinsley scored 11.
Kodi Augustus had 15 points for the Bulldogs and Bost and Jarvis Varnado each scored 12. Varnado, a native of Brownsville, Tenn., was one block shy of a rare triple-double. He grabbed 14 rebounds and had nine blocks — seven coming in the second half.
• Floating around in the student section Wednesday night were Kevin Stallings’ masks. Even football coach Bobby Johnson, who was around after a busy National Signing Day, was wearing one — backwards, too.
But Stallings failed to take notice.
“I’m sure it was ugly as heck,” Stallings said. “I’m the only guy that missed LeBron (James) at courtside (at the Kentucky game Saturday). I’m sure they were sorry looking. They didn’t have much to work with when they started making the mask.”
• Mississippi State has dropped three of four after jumping into the Top 25 rankings a couple weeks ago, but it’s easy to see why. The Bulldogs are 9-0 in games in which they score more than 75 points but 7-6 when they fail to reach that mark.
• Varnado now has 509 blocks in his career. He has 115 this year and needs just 27 to break the NCAA career mark set by Louisiana-Monroe’s Wojciech Mydra (1998-2002).