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Bulldogs have conference title in sight

2/29/2004

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Rick Stansbury and his Mississippi State
Bulldogs have their sights set on a Southeastern Conference
regular-season title, and nothing less will do.

Lawrence Roberts scored 18 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, and
No. 7 Mississippi State held off Vanderbilt 72-69 Saturday night to
remain perfect away from home this season and a game ahead of
Kentucky in the race for the SEC title.

The Bulldogs (23-2, 12-2) did not cut down any nets last week
after clinching a second consecutive SEC Western Division title.

"That's not our goal," Stansbury said. "It's a two-horse race
between us and Kentucky, and we needed to win another road game to
put some pressure on them. We looked at this as our SEC
championship game."

The Bulldogs strengthened their chances for their first SEC
regular-season championship since 1990-91, which they shared with
LSU, by improving to 11-0 on the road, including 7-0 in league
play.

They play at home against Auburn before visiting Alabama on
March 6, while Kentucky visits LSU on Sunday and South Carolina on
Wednesday before concluding at home against Florida. Obviously,
winning the school's first outright regular-season title since
1962-63 would be even better.

"Winning the SEC is our goal right now," Roberts said. "We
want to do a good job closing out."

Senior guard Timmy Bowers said: "We have the SEC in our hands.
It's in our path right now."

But it wasn't easy against Vanderbilt (18-7, 7-7), which had won
three straight and five of seven.

Mississippi State has won seven SEC games by double digits this
season, but the Bulldogs never led by more than six Saturday night
until the final seconds. They shot 5-of-8 at the foul line in the
final 40.6 seconds before Vandy gave the Bulldogs one last scare.

Bowers hit two free throws for Mississippi State to make it
72-66 before Vanderbilt's Matt Freije made his first free throw
with 6.1 seconds to go, then missed his second on purpose. Julian
Terrell scored for Vandy to make it 72-69 with 2.3 seconds
remaining.

Mississippi State lost a long inbound pass to Winsome Frazier
out of bounds, leaving Vandy 0.7 seconds to try to tie it. Jason
Holwerda tossed the ball over 7-foot Marcus Campbell, but none of
the Commodores could get a hand on the ball before the buzzer.

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings called it a hard-fought game.

"They're very athletic. We missed a lot of shots right around
the goal because of their athleticism. The killer for us was their
13 offensive rebounds in the second half. We have got to do better
than that," Stallings said.

Roberts shot only 4-of-13 from the floor, but he was 9-of-13 at
the line with 11 of his rebounds coming in the second half. Bowers
had 16 points, Frazier added 15 and Branden Vincent scored 12.

Freije, the SEC's preseason player of the year, led Vanderbilt
with 26 points but had only nine in the second half with Vincent
guarding him. Mario Moore added 10.

Freije credited the Bulldogs' zone defense with bothering his
team in the second half.

"At times, we were just too aggressive. We played hard, but
didn't execute as well as we could," Freije said.

The Commodores outshot Mississippi State by the slimmest of
margins (41.4 percent to 40.4 percent), but the Bulldogs dominated
the boards 45-32. They also made more free throws (19-of-31) than
Vandy attempted (12-of-18).

The two halves couldn't have been more different.

Mississippi State led 43-42 after a first half in which both
teams shot at least 50 percent from the floor and 60 percent from
3-point range in a fast-paced half that featured 14 3s. Vandy went
8-of-12 from 3-point range in the half.

"We took their best shot from 3 in the first half and were
still winning," Stansbury said. "Our ability to push caused some
fatigue, and that showed up in the shooting in the second half."

Both teams went cold in the second half. The Bulldogs missed
five of their first six shots to start the half, while Vandy hit
only one of seven. They combined to make just three field goals
through the first eight minutes, and Vincent's jumper, Mississippi
State's second field goal of the half, put the Bulldogs up 53-48
with 11:45 to go.