Vanderbilt had Renardo Sidney right where it wanted him in the first half — on the bench.
Unfortunately for the Commodores, he didn’t stay there. The Mississippi State big man proved to be the thorn in Vanderbilt’s side. He breathed life into the No. 18 Bulldogs in a pivotal five-minute stretch to open the second half and then dished out the game-winning assist in overtime as the Commodores let one slip away in a 78-77 loss on Saturday night at Memorial Gymnasium.
The 6-foot-10, 280-pound Sidney finished with nine points and three steals after playing less than two minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. His smooth, one-handed pass on a backdoor cut set up Dee Bost on for an open layup with 51.8 seconds to go and gave the Bulldogs a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“Any time you’ve got a guy that big, he is a great offensive player so they passed to him and got him going,” Vanderbilt guard John Jenkins said. “Then they all started hitting.”
Jenkins’ catch-and-shoot 3-pointer as time expired in the extra period hit the front of the rim, snapping Vanderbilt’s eight-game winning streak.
The Commodores (14-5, 4-1 SEC) also had a chance to win it in regulation. On an inbounds pass from Brad Tinsley with 1.3 seconds left, Festus Ezeli’s 10-foot jumper hit off the back of the rim as the buzzer sounded.
The game probably shouldn’t have come down to that as Vanderbilt led by 13 in the first half and took a 39-28 advantage into halftime. But a five-minute lapse out of the break cost the Commodores as the Bulldogs went on a 20-2 run.
Sidney was in the middle of it all, making three baskets, picking up two steals and disrupting Ezeli on defense. The Vanderbilt center scored only four of his 12 points after halftime, though he grabbed a career-high 14 rebounds.
“He made a huge difference,” Bost said of Sidney. “He shut down Festus Ezeli in the second half, and even though his stats don’t look like they’re supposed to look, he always comes through when we need him.”
Bost’s two free throws capped off the spurt for a 48-41 lead with 15:24 remaining. Six minutes later, the Bulldogs extended the lead to 10 thanks to four straight 3-pointers by Jalen Steele, who finished with 15 points. Mississippi State (16-4, 3-2) was just 1-of-10 from 3-point range in the first half but made nine of its last 10.
“Our defensive effort in the second half, especially at the start of the second half, was brutal. So we got what we deserved. We let them get their head up,” Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said. “They were 8-for-9 from 3 in the second half, 9-for-10 if you count the overtime. So no wonder why you lose the game. ... I think we thought it was going to be easy perhaps. We came out the start of the second half and weren’t ready to go.
“We shouldn’t have to learn that lesson with a team that is our team’s age [with five seniors].”
The Commodores battled back to force overtime. After Lance Goulbourne’s fourth 3-pointer — a career-high — Jenkins nailed another from the left side to tie it at 68 with 32.8 seconds left. Jenkins finished with a team-high 21 points. Taylor added 19 and Goulbourne had 12.
Bost led all scorers with 24 points. Arnett Moultrie grabbed his 11th double-double of the season, with 21 points and 14 rebounds.
Mississippi State shot just 28.6 percent in the first half but made 55.8 percent (19-of-34) after halftime.
“We sure let them get their heads going like they thought they could score every time,” Stallings said. “We did a good job the last three or four minutes in the second half to get the thing to overtime. Again, we’re a good team when we defend well and we’ll beat a lot of people when we defend well. But we won’t when we don’t.”
• The Commodores have lost four home games in a season for the first time since 2008-09.
• Vanderbilt has another quick turnaround, welcoming rival Tennessee to Memorial Gymnasium at 6 p.m. on Tuesday (ESPNU). The Volunteers (9-10, 1-3) pulled off a 60-57 upset over No. 13 Connecticut on Saturday. Tennessee swept the season series against Vanderbilt last year.
• At halftime the entire Vanderbilt football team stretched the length of the court to receive some special recognition and a standing ovation from the sellout crowd.
The Commodores were honored for reaching just the fifth bowl in school history this past season as they lost to Cincinnati in the Liberty Bowl.
Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin was also given two memorable game balls — one for his first coaching victory (Elon) and another for his first SEC win (Ole Miss).
Franklin, who watched from the stands with recruits, grabbed the microphone and repeatedly told the crowd, “This is not the same old Vanderbilt.”
“This is just the beginning and we still have a long way to go. But with your support, the sky is the limit,” he said. “I know the season didn’t finish the way we wanted to but this is just the beginning ... but I can guarantee you we are building something that you can all be very, very proud of.”