After knocking off the nation’s top-ranked team and receiving its highest ranking in 14 years, Vanderbilt looks to avoid a letdown when it visits SEC West-leading Mississippi State on Wednesday.
The 17th-ranked Commodores (18-8, 8-4) are coming off an 83-70 win over then-No. 1 Florida on Saturday. The team shot 57.1 percent from the field, compared to the Gators’ 44 percent, and built a significant lead in the second half from which Florida could not recover.
Derrick Byars and Shan Foster each scored 24 points to lead Vanderbilt, which beat a top-ranked team for the first time since defeating Kentucky on Jan. 13, 1993.
“A lot of people don’t ever get the opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country,” Foster said. “We got the opportunity and seized the moment.”
Saturday’s win was Vanderbilt’s sixth over a Top 25 opponent this season. The Commodores also have home wins over Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Alabama, and road wins at Kentucky and LSU.
After a 1-3 start to the season, Vanderbilt has built an impressive resume against ranked opponents to boost its chances of appearing in the NCAA tournament. For now, though, the win gave the Commodores their highest ranking since the final poll of the 1992-93 season when they were No. 8.
“We’re coming off a good week, in which we won two games and protected ourselves at home,” said coach Kevin Stallings, whose team can achieve its first winning SEC season since 1997 with a win. “We now have to go play a good Mississippi State team that has won four out of their last five games. We know it’ll be a tremendous challenge and hopefully we’ll keep up the strong play that we had last week.”
The Commodores are 3-5 in road games this season and have lost by double digits in their last two—at Florida and Tennessee. The team has dropped its last six road games against Mississippi State (15-10, 6-6), going winless in Starkville since an 80-39 victory during the 1992-93 season.
The Bulldogs, however, have lost two of the last three meetings overall, including an 80-52 defeat at Vanderbilt in the only matchup last season.
Mississippi State enters this contest on a three-game winning streak, overcoming a 3-8 slump to move into a tie with Alabama and Mississippi for first place in the SEC West.
“We’re playing our best basketball right now,” Bulldogs leading scorer Jamont Gordon said.
Gordon and Charles Rhodes each scored 15 points in the team’s 56-50 win over LSU on Saturday. The Bulldogs led by 12 before LSU went on a late 11-0 run, but Rhodes’ basket with 1:37 left ended that stretch and Mississippi State held on to win.
“On the road you’re not always going to play pretty. … We found a way to win ugly,” coach Rick Stansbury said. “I’m proud of our kids. They’ve done this the hard way. It’s made us better, getting to this point doing it the way we’ve had to do it.”
Stansbury’s team, though, is 1-10 against SEC East opponents over the last two seasons and has dropped 12 in a row versus ranked foes since beating South Carolina on Feb. 11, 2004.
“(Vanderbilt is) coming off one of the biggest wins in school history, defeating No. 1 Florida,” Stansbury said. “We’re certainly going to have our hands full.”