BULLDOGS FALTER, BUT KEEP LEAD
By Gene Phelps
NASHVILLE Mississippi State left Vanderbilt's Memorial Gym Wednesday night like it has so many times before a loser.
Vanderbilt senior guard Frank Seckar, bowed out in style, scoring on a driving layup with 28 seconds remaining to lift the Commodores to a thrilling 69-64 victory over the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State, which is now 1-7 at Memorial Gym under Richard Williams, could have clinched the SEC's Western Division championship outright with a victory. Instead, the Bulldogs saw their record slip to 18-7 overall and to 9-6 in conference play.
However, the Bulldogs clinched at least a share of the division title for a second straight season depsite losing, thanks to Alabama's Wednesday win over Arkansas. The Bulldogs still have a one-game lead with only Saturday's home game against Auburn remaining.
Vanderbilt, which is fighting to remain in postseason contention, upped its record to 17-11 overall and to 7-8 in the SEC East.
"We are delighted to get the win, our 17th win," Vandy coach Jan van Breda Kolff said. "It keeps our NCAA hopes alive."
Except for a brief lead in the opening minutes, Mississippi State trailed until the 5-minute, 42-second mark when forward Dontae' Jones slammed home a dunk to tie the score at 54-54. A steal by Jones, a Nashville native, playing in front of his family for the first time, set up the score.
Russell Walters gave the Bulldogs the lead, 56-54, seconds later on a layup.
From that point, the lead changed hands seven times. State's last lead came with 1:49 left, 64-63, on a 3-point basket by Bullard.
Seckar, who scored 20 points, also hit two 3-pointers in the final five minutes to help slow down the charging Bulldogs. His layup upped Vandy's lead to 67-64.
"Seckar is difficult to defend," State's Williams said. "He is one of the most difficult guys to defend in the league. They do a good job getting the ball to him where he needs it and he makes good decisions."
State worked on its last possession to get Darryl Wilson open for a 3-pointer, but he was called for walking.
What a difference four days makes when it comes to shooting the basketball. Mississippi State, which shot a blistering 62.9 in the first half of Saturday's convincing win over Alabama, couldn't buy a basket in the opening 20 minutes against the Commodores. The Bulldogs hit on just 9-of-29 attempts for 31 percent.
Vanderbilt didn't shoot much better (41 percent) in the first half, but the Commodores still built a 34-24 halftime lead.
For State, which shot 36 percent for the game, Wilson scored 16, Jones 15 and Erick Dampier 15. For Vandy, Malik Evans added 20 to join Seckar and Drew Maddux scored 13.