Miss. State Tops USC, Clinches The SEC West, and Diamond Dawgs Get Swept

Brett HollowayContributor IMarch 1, 2010

NASHVILLE, TN - MARCH 14:  (L-R) Kodi Augustus #24 and Dee Bost #3 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs talk on court against the Kentucky Wildcats during the final of the SEC Men's Basketball Tournament at the Bridgestone Arena on March 14, 2010 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If you paid any attention last week to some quotes within the MSU camp, you might have heard the phrase “fighting for our lives”, and MSU appears to be doing just that, trying to guarantee their spot amongst the final 64 next month. On Saturday, State traveled to one of the SEC’s toughest venues, in Columbia, South Carolina. Even though the Gamecocks’ overall record is nothing impressive, USC was 11-3 at home (now 11-4), with wins over teams such as #2 UK. The Bulldogs not only left Columbia with a win, but rather handled the Gamecocks for much of Saturday evening. State was very impressive in (1) controlling Devan Downey, (2) shooting the 3 ball, and (3) putting the game away. To put the latter in perspective, (1) Downey came in averaging 27 ppg in SEC play, but was held to only 12, which was his second lowest output of the year. (2) MSU shot 47% from downtown, hitting 10 of 21 shots, led by Barry Stewart who hit on 5 of 7. (3) And finally, USC got the game back to within 2 (39-37) at the 16 minute mark, but an 11-0 run by the Dawgs kept the Cocks out of striking distance for the rest of the evening. MSU led by 16 (60-44) at the 9 minute mark, and would go on to win by 13, 76-63. Stewart wasn’t the only Dawg who played solid: Jarvis Varnado finished with 19 pts and 12 rebs, Kodi Augustus pitched in 13 and 9, Ravern Johnson put up 15 and 5, and Dee Bost posted 11 with 7 assists. With the win, State clinched at least a share of the SEC West, and hold the tie-breaker over Arkansas and Ole Miss…so in other words, get started on our banner please. The Division Crown is the Bulldogs’ 7th, and State has now won 3 of the last 4 titles. Just weeks ago, MSU was losers of 4 of 5, and making the Big Dance or even winning the West, simply looked improbable. But, when things looked the worst, the Dawgs began to claw. Now winners of 6 of their last 7, State is among the SEC’s hottest teams, they’ve clinched the West and a bye in the SEC Tourney, and quite possibly have found their way off the bubble, and into March Madness contention. If anything silences critics, it’s winning, and Rick Stansbury has found a way to do just that. I for one, have been critical of Stans at times this year, but I have to applaud him for his improvements within the areas of game planning, player utilization, and closing out games. With that said, not closing out the UK game with a 7 point lead in the final minutes, and needing a 3 pointer in the final seconds of the LSU game-just to win, says what it says about this coach and team. But, for this bunch to achieve what they have considering season long injuries to Bailey and Beckham, while still awaiting the availability of Sidney, says a lot as well. As for the road ahead, which team that takes the court, and which coach that takes the sidelines, we’ll just have to wait and see. State has 2 regular season games left, this Wednesday at Auburn, and Saturday at home for #17 UT. As for Barry Stewart and Jarvis Varnado, these last two match ups will be their final regular season games in Maroon and White. Barry will graduate as MSU’s best 3 point shooter in school history (statistically), and with the most minutes played. As for Varnado, he will more than likely win his 3rd consecutive SEC Defensive Player of the Year, and graduate as the only player in college basketball history, with 1,000+ points, 1,000 + rebounds, and 500+ blocks in a career. How do you guys see the final 2 going? Do we need both W’s or just one to be ok for Tourney consideration? One things for sure, beating UT will greatly aid our chances, improve our RPI, and impress the analysts, who are infatuated with UT every year. Auburn will be dangerous on their home rims, and have given us fits over the last 5 years or so. For some reason, we always just try to out shoot the Tigers, rather than playing our usual defensive style, and that calls for some high scoring battles. If we can handle the rest of the season, with the same fire that the Dawgs showed at Columbia, the Dawgs could go far in both tourneys. In Baseball news, hmmm…how do I put it, how about embarrassing. State was 9-0 against SELA, until this weekend, in which the Diamond Dawgs were swept by the Lions. Coach Cohen was blunt as usual, about his team’s performance: “We are better than we were this weekend and we will continue to get better…Since this had to happen, I liked the way that it happened. It stings and I want our guys to fill that sting…Not everything will always go our way…We know how it feels when we don’t do our job.” Amen to all that, because you can’t get swept by the Southland Conference. Maybe you lose one to their stud on Friday, but you take care of business the rest of the weekend. Recap… Friday -Nick Routt pitched 8 inn, 6 hits, 1 run -Johnathan Ogden was 3-4 -State blew bases opportunity in 8th -Gave up 3 run 9th to SELA for loss Saturday -State committed 5 error. -Dawgs had 11 hits, 3 from Luke Adkins -Chris Stratton got the loss, (1-1) now, 5 runs, 2 earned, 5 hits in 2 inn. Sunday -State failed to score in final 5 at bats. -Had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out in the 9th, Powers and Duffy failed to come through. -Russ Snead hit his first HR of the yr, Dawgs got 2 runs in 1st. -Dawgs were out hit 15-11. I also wanted to hear yalls’ opinion on the Tourney picture. If you are friends with me on Facebook, as some of you are, my status on Saturday was: “ESPN is taking the Big East out to dinner tonight, they are in love you know.” I mean when you have 17-12 teams, with losing records in their conference, being talked about over a MSU or better teams, it’s ridiculous. Pretty sad. SEC has to get 4 in, period. We are not the Big East, but for them to get 8-9 teams in, is a crime. Guess that’s what happens when the ACC and Pac 10 suck, you gotta fill the spots with somebody, but still.