Unhappy Stallings will take Commodores’ latest nail-biter

Thursday, February 4, 2010 at 12:55am
Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado rejects Commodore Festus Ezeli's shot — one of his nine blocks on the night. / Mike Strasinger for The City Paper

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).


6 Comments on this post:

By: fightcrib on 2/4/10 at 10:40

According to Kentucky fans, Mississippi State was screwed by the officials, who must be paid off by Vanderbilt.

Also, because of the bench configuration at Memorial Gymn, no Vanderbilt victory there is ever legitimate.

By: wiseguy on 2/4/10 at 1:02

fightcrib, I would expect UK fans to recognize a screwing as many teams have been drilled by suspicious calls when UK is in the house.

Look around West End Ave, or even Nashville, for all the trappings of a program flush with cash and boosters with a win at any cost attitude ... New 20,000 seat arena? Mens BB coaches endorsemnt clause over $3,000,000? Oh, yes ... description sure fits VU ... paid officials ... sure thing

By: localboy on 2/4/10 at 1:20

"Bench configuration at Memorial Gym?" What's that got to do with the price of tea?
Both coaching staffs have to yell and signal when their squad is at the opposite goal - wash city. If the victories aren't legit, then neither are the losses.
Memorial has a unique atmosphere and history - unlike the monolithic arenas currently in vogue.

By: TITAN1 on 2/4/10 at 2:02

localboy, I'm pretty sure fightcrib was being sarcastic.

By: localboy on 2/4/10 at 4:07

No! You got me!

By: garrthom on 2/5/10 at 10:57

Are UK fan's already making excuses for their highly touted and highly ranked can't be beat by most NBA teams losing to Vandy at Memorial Gym on Feb. 20th @ 5:00pm televised on ESPN? Then Vandy's giant killer reputation precedes them. If Vandy and UK are still tied for first place or Vandy is behind 1 game then this will be THE game. So much more of an important of a game toward the end of the year here in Nashville than the one earlier back in Lexington.