ATLANTA (AP)—Just before tipoff, Mississippi State gathered at midcourt, holding aloft the trophy for its first Southeastern Conference championship in 13 years.
Then Lawrence Roberts tumbled out of bounds—and the Bulldogs were soon tumbling out of the SEC tournament.
Vanderbilt stunned No. 4 Mississippi State in overtime, pulling off a 74-70 upset in the quarterfinals Friday night to almost certainly deny the Bulldogs of their bid for a top seed in the NCAAs.
“We had put ourselves in position for a great seed,” coach Rick Stansbury said. “I guess we made the decision a little easier for the committee as far as who gets a 1 seed and who gets a 2 seed. We’ll be happy with a 2 seed.”
Roberts, the SEC player of year, had a chance to win it in regulation for the Bulldogs (25-3) but his 3-pointer at the buzzer clanged off the back of the rim.
That epitomized the night for Roberts, who wasn’t the same player after he tumbled out of bounds with 14 minutes left in regulation trying to catch an errant pass. He fell over a cameraman behind the basket, leaving the Mississippi State star with a sprained right ankle.
“The hardest thing was getting up and down the floor,” said Roberts, who managed only 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting. “But this is the time of the season that I can’t afford to sit on the bench.
Vanderbilt (21-9) rallied from 11-point deficit early in the second half and clinched the victory at the free-throw line—a spot that gave the Commodores trouble most of the night. Julian Terrell put them ahead to stay with a couple of foul shots, and Corey Smith sealed it by hitting two more with 20.2 seconds remaining.
Also, one of the SEC’s weakest teams on the boards more than held its own with the Bulldogs, who had led the conference in rebounding margin. Vanderbilt wound up with a 45-43 edge—22 at the offensive end. Smith led the way with 10 rebounds.
“We just wanted to keep it close,” senior Russell Lakey said, “so something special would happen at the end.”
Mississippi State was playing its fourth overtime game of the season—and second in a row. The Bulldogs survived an 82-81 scare from Alabama last weekend, after also beating Santa Clara and South Carolina in OT.
But the fourth time was not the charm for the SEC’s regular-season champions, who received their trophy from commissioner Mike Slive just before the game.
“I believe we’re a No. 1 seed based on how hard we worked all season,” Roberts said. “Unfortunately, we lost tonight, but sometimes you run into a team that’s got some glass slippers.”
Mario Moore scored 17 points and Terrell added 16 to lead five Vanderbilt players in double figures.
The Bulldogs didn’t get much from their two big guns. Timmy Bowers, another member of the All-SEC team, matched Roberts by shooting 4-of-12 and making eight costly turnovers—including the pass that led to his teammate’s injury.
“Timmy has made some great plays for us all year long,” Stansbury said. “I would have the ball in his hands in every one of those situations.”
Vanderbilt, assuring itself of a spot in the NCAA tournament, advanced to face Florida in Saturday’s semifinals.
Kentucky—suddenly the heavy favorite to win another SEC tournament—will meet South Carolina in the other semifinal.
Mississippi State appeared poised for a blowout, going up 41-30 when Bowers swished a 3 with 16:59 left. But Smith answered with a trey, then Vandy scored two quick baskets off steals.
Suddenly, it was 41-37.
Not long after that, Roberts went down. He was only out for 3 1/2 minutes, returning to the game with his ankle heavily taped and in obvious pain. He wasn’t the same player.
Still, the Bulldogs had a chance to escape. Roberts hit a pair of free throws with 48 seconds left for a 65-64 lead. Matt Freije tied it up for Vanderbilt by making 1-of-2 at the line with 33.8 seconds left—giving Mississippi State the last shot.
It wasn’t the one they were looking for. Roberts wound up with the ball near the top of the key and had to fire up a 3-pointer—only his 35th attempt of the season from outside the arc. He missed all three of his long-range shots against Vanderbilt.
Bowers’ got sloppy in the final minute of overtime.
He appeared to have an opening to the basket on a fast break, but threw the ball away. Another chance to tie it up was wasted when Bowers spotted Brandon Vincent alone under the basket, but passed it so hard his teammate couldn’t get his hands up in time. The ball sailed out of bounds for another turnover.
The Bulldogs finished with 19 in all.
For a while, it looked as though Vanderbilt would waste its chance for the upset with poor foul shooting. The Commodores were only 14-of-25 overall, but 7-of-8 in overtime was good enough to keep playing this weekend.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, will try to regroup before the NCAA tournament.
“I don’t care if we’re a 1, 2 or 3 seed,” Vincent said. “We’re going to be a dangerous team.”