NEW ORLEANS (TICKER) —Mario Austin and Mississippi State are playing like they want a return trip to New Orleans.
Austin scored 18 points and the 17th-ranked Bulldogs used stifling defense to post a 54-45 victory over No. 5 Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl Classic.
Mississippi State (8-1) won its eighth straight and ended Oklahoma’s six-game winning streak. The Bulldogs are hoping to reach the Final Four here in April at the Superdome and their play Saturday at the New Orleans Arena showed they are capable.
The Sooners (6-2) took a 36-30 lead on 3-pointers by Quannas White and Hollis Price - high school teammates at New Orleans’ St. Augustine High School. But the Sooners went cold and managed only one basket over a span of nearly 12 minutes.
“Our team never gave up even though a six-point deficit in this game is a lot,” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. “I thought the toughest team would win this game at the defensive end.”
“Our team is evolving,” Sooners coach Kelvin Sampson said. “We’re not a good team now, but I think we will be by season’s end.”
The Bulldogs outscored the Sooners 18-2 in that stretch, including eight straight points to start it and took a 38-36 lead on Ontario Harper’s jumper with 9:40 remaining. Price responded with a jumper, Oklahoma’s only points in that run.
Branden Vincent and Timmy Bowers drained 3-pointers as Mississippi State completed the run with 10 straight points. Austin’s two foul shots made it 48-38 with 3:39 remaining.
The 3-pointer was Bowers’ only basket of the game.
“That’s my backcourt buddy and that’s also my roommate,” Bulldogs guard Derrick Zimmerman said. “I’ve got to take care of him.”
Austin’s three-point play with 58 seconds left stopped a run of seven straight points by Oklahoma and made it 51-45. Zimmerman added a follow slam 16 seconds later to seal the win.
“We just wanted to get it inside,” Austin said. “The Oklahoma defense was so good, we just couldn’t until the final minute and a half.”
Price finished with 17 points, but made just 6-of-17 shots. White was 3-of-12 as Oklahoma clicked at just 31.5 percent (17-of-54) and had eight baskets in the second half.
“December is an appetizer,” Price said. “April is the big meal.”
The first half was a poor-shooting, defensive affair for both teams and ended in a 23-23 tie. But Mississippi State, which had eight baskets in the first 20 minutes, saw a silver lining in the lackluster affair.
“I told the guys at halftime, ‘We need games like this,’” Zimmerman said. “We weren’t playing well. I told them we had to find a way to win.”
The Bulldogs played their first six games without Austin, who was waiting to be cleared by the NCAA. He is averaging 23.3 points and nine rebounds in his three games. “I just want to put in work and help these guys out,” Austin said. “I just want to help these guys win.”
Mississippi State overcame a combined 4-of-17 effort from the floor by Bowers and Zimmerman. Michal Ignerski chipped in 11 points to compensate for the Bulldogs.
The poor shooting for Oklahoma extended to leading scorer Ebi Ere, who was 4-of-16 for nine points. The Sooners were only able to get to the line for five foul shots and were 7-of-24 from beyond the arc.
Oklahoma received just four points and 13 rebounds combined front frontcourt starters Jabahri Brown and freshman Kevin Bookout. The Sooners failed to get the ball inside, resulting in only five shots between the two players.