No. 24 Mississippi State aims to even SEC mark at Vandy

Two teams in need of a Southeastern Conference win meet in Nashville on Saturday night when Mississippi State opposes Vanderbilt.

The No. 24 Bulldogs (13-3, 1-2 SEC) snapped a two-game losing streak with a 71-68 home win over Florida on Tuesday. After Mississippi State trailed 66-61 with 2:56 left, senior guard Quinndary Weatherspoon (16.6 points per game) turned a layup into a three-point play with 3.6 seconds left for the winning points.

"I'm really proud of our guys. I thought we kept our composure better in this game than we did Saturday," Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said, referencing a home loss to Ole Miss last Saturday. "So that showed a lot of growth, because it's something we talked about, not being so emotional and staying positive."

That stands in stark contrast to the performance of Vanderbilt (9-7, 0-4) in a 74-71 home loss to South Carolina on Wednesday.

The Gamecocks led for just 2:03 of the contest. The Commodores made just 24 of 37 free throws, and a technical foul by Vanderbilt sophomore guard Saben Lee set up a five-point South Carolina possession inside the final two minutes, gift-wrapping a win for the visitors.

"I'm sure you guys are saying the same thing I'm saying right now: How did we lose that game?" Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew said afterward. "That was a game we should have won. That was our game to win."

It was a flashback to Vanderbilt's conference-opening loss to Ole Miss, a game in which Vanderbilt blew a six-point second-half lead thanks to hitting just 17 of 29 foul shots.

Vanderbilt relies heavily on a pair of freshmen, guard Aaron Nesmith, who scored a career-high 23 on Wednesday, and forward Simi Shittu, who leads the team in scoring (14.1 points per game) and rebounding (7.8 per game).

Mississippi State has a steadier, more veteran lineup keyed by Quinndary Weatherspoon, one of three players on the team to start all 16 contests. The others are junior point guard Lamar Peters (13.8 ppg, 97 assists) and Quinndary's brother, sophomore guard Nick Weatherspoon (10.6 ppg). Senior forward Aric Holman (12.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 38 blocks) has started 15 times.

Even so, the matchup isn't a slam-dunk for the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State relies on shooting, and its 56.1 effective field goal percentage ranks 20th in the country. The Commodores defend field goals well (46.8 EFG), ranking 39th.

Despite the recent results, free-throw shooting also could give Vanderbilt an upset shot. The Commodores get there a ton, as their ratio of free throw to field goal attempts ranks ninth in the country.

Mississippi State has played just two true road contests, winning 65-58 at Dayton on Nov. 30 and losing in overtime to South Carolina, 87-82, on Jan. 8.

The teams split last year, each winning on its home floor. Vanderbilt has won the past four meetings in Memorial Gymnasium, the last Mississippi State win there coming in 2012, a 78-77 decision in overtime.

--Field Level Media

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