Bulldogs taking Commodores very seriously

Staff Writer

Don’t let the record fool you.

As No. 24 Mississippi State (13-3, 1-2) gets set to face Vanderbilt (9-7, 0-4) on the road Saturday night at 7:30 p.m., it might be easy to dismiss the Commodores’ chances given their winless mark in Southeastern Conference play. However the Bulldogs and head coach Ben Howland aren’t letting themselves be deceived.

“They’ve been up in every single game they’ve been in,” Howland said of Vanderbilt. “They’ve had leads in all those games and they’ve been incredibly tight. They had Kentucky down 16-4 at the start of that game and had Kentucky down in the second half at Rupp Arena. The Ole Miss game was a really tight game until late in the game. This last game, they’ve got to be saying, ‘We should have won that game against South Carolina.’ We know we’re going to have to play very well.”

Mississippi State can’t afford to overlook the Commodores. Despite the Bulldogs’ strong overall record, MSU stumbled out of the gate in SEC action by losing its first two games. State recovered on Tuesday by downing Florida 71-68, but Saturday night gives the Bulldogs a chance to firmly reestablish momentum as they begin a stretch where four of the next five games are on the road.

Given the potential of Vanderbilt’s personnel, Howland doesn’t think it’ll be hard for his team to get locked in.

Freshman big man Simisola Shittu is maybe the Commodores’ most potent threat. He nearly averages a double-double with 14.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game and can hurt opponents in multiple ways.

“He’s a really tough matchup,” Howland said. “He can dish out assists. He handles the ball really well. He makes plays.

“He’s long and blocks shots. He’s a tough matchup. He’s really an incredible athlete to be as long as he is in terms of his ability to move and drive and create shots for others as well as himself.”

Another Vanderbilt freshman also concerns Howland. The versatile Aaron Nesmith, who can play at both guard and forward, is averaging 9.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest. He has been especially good in SEC games, averaging 12.8 points per game. Nesmith is coming off an outing in which he scored a career-high 23 points against South Carolina.

If Nesmith, Shittu and the other Commodores play up to their potential, Vanderbilt could make Saturday night a difficult evening for Mississippi State. If it happened, it wouldn’t be the first time the Bulldogs stumbled on the road at Vanderbilt. MSU is just 9-47 all-time when playing on the Commodores’ home floor.

The Bulldogs will look to change those fortunes Saturday night against the skidding Vanderbilt squad, but State is buckling in for a battle knowing nothing can be taken for granted in the SEC.

“They’ve got a very talented group,” Howland said of the Commodores.