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The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Bulldogs punch ticket to big dance after SEC tournament wins

Noah Carpenter
Graduate student Tolu Smith has started 84 of his 85 outings with the MSU Bulldogs.

After defeating eight-seeded Louisiana State University 70-60 Thursday afternoon, the ninth-seeded Mississippi State University men’s basketball team advanced to the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

The underdog Bulldogs were set to face the top-seeded and No. 5 ranked University of Tennessee Friday afternoon.

Bulldogs head coach Chris Jans talked about how his team has embraced the underdog mentality to prepare themselves to win against top-ranked opponents.

“These kids are tough-minded guys, and you know, we feel like we work pretty hard on a daily basis, and they bought into that bring it everyday, lunch pail mentality,” Jans said. “At times we talk about that chip and trying to use it to our advantage in certain situations.”

Mississippi State jumped to an early lead 9-4 with 15:17 remaining in the first half following the Volunteers’ offensive struggles. The Mississippi State defense continued dialing in the Vols’ offensive attack as the half progressed.

Using their defense as a guide, the Bulldogs pressed forward offensively and led 23-14 with eight minutes left. Closing out the half, the Bulldogs’ offense dominated with a 10-1 run, punching their lead to 19.

After an impressive first half, the Bulldogs needed to continue their strong defensive efforts to come away with a shocking win.

Coming out of the half, the Volunteers fought early to keep the game within reach. In the first four and half minutes, they outpaced the MSU offense 9-2, bridging the distance to 12 points. However, the Mississippi State defense quickly vamped up, slowing the Volunteers down.

With the defense battling, the Bulldogs pushed back the Vols, and with 9:51 left, MSU led 58-35, giving them their largest of the game. The Volunteers quickly regrouped and began fighting back. They managed to hold off the Bulldogs’ commanding defense and slow down the Bulldogs’ scoring, bringing the game to 12 points and forcing the Bulldogs into a timeout with 5:03 remaining.

However, the Vols’ luck began to run out as they only put up eight more points to close out the game.

MSU senior D.J. Jeffries spoke on the Bulldogs’ defensive ability to execute the game.

“I feel like we did a great job for forty minutes. You know, we stayed together and from the start, like we just dictated, you know, we didn’t allow them [Tennessee] to get into their stuff,” Jeffries said. “They were just fighting from behind the whole time, so we just did a good job for 40 minutes just staying on the tech.”

With the help of an impressive defensive performance and two 18-point scorers in Josh Hubbard and Cameron Matthews, Mississippi State ran off the court with a 73-56 victory over the tournament’s top seed.

The Bulldogs advanced to the semifinals to play against four-seeded Auburn University Saturday.

Early in the game, MSU darted ahead 12-4, but their lead was quickly diminished by the Tigers clawing their way back offensively. Auburn gained their first lead, 20-19, with 8:45 until halftime.

As the clock rolled down, both teams battled to prevent the other from making a charge. At half, the score was even at 31-31.

As the second half opened, Auburn found a gap, going on a 12-4 run and spreading out to an eight-point lead by 14:06. However, MSU’s defense kept the Tigers at bay, and the margin slimmed to 3 points with 5:30 left.

Mississippi State continued pushing to take a late-game lead, but Auburn kept the fight alive and never gave in.

The Tigers (26-7, 13-5 SEC) moved to the finals with a 73-66 victory, and Mississippi State’s unexpected tournament run came to an end.

Coach Jans talked about what the SEC tournament showed him about his team.

“What I come out of this tournament feeling and knowing is that they have a competitive personality to them that’s high level. They competed. I told them in the locker room, ‘We didn’t lose this game because of your lack of want to or effort,’” Jans said. We talked repeatedly about leaving everything on the floor, and we did that.”

Mississippi State, having boosted their NCAA Tournament resume with a second-round victory over LSU, a dominating defensive performance and upset over top-seeded Tennessee and a close loss to Auburn, patiently waited to learn their tournament fate.

The Bulldogs were announced as the eighth seed in the West Regional Sunday night during the NCAA Men’s Basketball Selection Show.

Mississippi State will travel to Charlotte, North Carolina, to face off against the ninth-seeded Michigan State University (19-14) in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament on Thursday at 11:15 a.m. The matchup will be broadcast on CBS.

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