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Miss. State shows it just might be composed enough to turn corner

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Rick Stansbury has Mississippi State playing composed basketball. (US Presswire)  
Rick Stansbury has Mississippi State playing composed basketball. (US Presswire)  

NASHVILLE -- I came here to write about Vanderbilt.

About the surging Commodores.

About Festus Ezeli.

But a funny thing happened on the way to my Vanderbilt-Is-Finally-At-Full-Strength-And-Looking-Like-A-Top-20-Team column. Mississippi State decided to erase a double-digit deficit and beat the Commodores 78-77 in overtime here at Memorial Gym. So I've scrapped my Vanderbilt column and removed the Commodores from consideration for Sunday's Top 25 (and one). Now I'm writing about Rick Stansbury's composed Bulldogs, and when's the last time anybody did that?

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I say Mississippi State, you think what?

Unreliable, right?

You think about a team that can beat anybody on a good night and lose at Ole Miss on a bad night despite the fact that Ole Miss' leading scorer has been dismissed because he got high, ordered a pizza and got busted with weed by a cop when he opened the door for the delivery guy. That's a tough break for my man Dundrecous Nelson, but that's not the point. The point is the Rebels were just OK with Nelson but still managed to beat Mississippi State without Nelson, which led to the usual "That's so Mississippi State" remarks.

I say Mississippi State, you think what?

Uncomposed, right?

You think about that image from a little more than a year ago of two Bulldogs (Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey) fighting in the stands on national television. Yes, I know that was a while back and a different team. And that it was an isolated incident. But it is, fair or not, still the image most college basketball fans have of the Bulldogs. They seemed uncomposed -- unhinged, even -- in a very public way. That image sticks.

Which brings me back to Saturday -- when State was the opposite of all that.

The Bulldogs were remarkably reliable on this night.

They were also composed.

"We just went out there, stayed confident and stayed together," said Mississippi State guard Jalen Steele. "We knew we were going to eventually make this game a tough game for Vanderbilt."

By we were, Steele kinda meant I was.

The Tennessee native sank four second-half 3-pointers and five total to finish with a season-high 15 points. He's the main reason the Bulldogs made their first seven 3-point attempts of the second half and went on an 20-2 run that turned a 39-28 deficit into a 48-41 lead. In other words, Steele got going. And then Dee Bost (24 points, five rebounds and four assists) got going. And then Arnette Moultrie (21 points and 14 rebounds) got going and recorded his 11th double-double of the season.

"We got what we deserved," said Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. "We let them get their head up."

And so they left with their heads high.

The often described unreliable and uncomposed Bulldogs came into one of the biggest homecourt advantages in the SEC and exited with a victory that oddsmakers didn't believe they'd get before tip and few thought they'd get when A) they were down 39-26 roughly 19 minutes in, B) Vandy sank two 3-pointers in the final 90 seconds of regulation to force OT, or C) Vanderbilt took a lead in that OT period. Bottom line, the Bulldogs should be 2-3 in the SEC right now. Instead, they are 3-2 -- with four of their next five games at home against unranked opponents -- thanks to an improbable victory that suggested that maybe, just maybe, this version of State is reliable and composed and even tough enough to string victories in this top-heavy league.

"Very few teams win on the road," Stansbury said. "Check around the country. It doesn't happen. And that's what makes this even more special. We got down but we found a way. … And it makes me incredibly proud of my guys for them to be able to come in here and ride the waves and get a win."


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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