By MATTHEW STEVENS
Earlier in the week, Mississippi State’s head coach Rick Stansbury said “everybody” identifies Vanderbilt’s Jeffery Taylor as the Commodores best player.
Turns out everybody was right.
Taylor not only led the team in scoring, got the game-winning seal and dunk but also left with nearly all of the 6,421 fans in Starkville booing him after he led 19th-ranked Commodores to its first road win at Humphrey Coliseum since 1993.
The 81-74 victory for Vanderbilt was also their first Southeastern Conference road victory of the 2010-11 season after blowing double-digit leads at South Carolina and Tennessee.
“We’ve knocked on the door on the road all year long and I’ve consistently told my players at some point the door will eventually fall,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said.
Coming out of a timeout down three with 22 seconds left, Mississippi State junior point guard Brian Bryant threw the ball to his right in front of his own goal and Taylor jumped the pass and completed an emphatic throw down while being fouled for the old-fashioned three-point play.
“Jeff is a phenomenal athlete,” Stallings said. “Anybody could have made that steal but I don’t think anyone else besides Jeff could’ve finished that play like he did. For him to get that and-one dunk was huge for us and quite impressive.”
Taylor had backcourt help with the shooting touch of sophomore John Jenkins and his 21 points in 37 minutes of play. Jenkins, who shot a combined 6-for-18 last year in two games against State, was a perfect 9-for-9 from the charity stripe throughout the game.
Before the turnover, Bryant got his shot block underneath the hoop and then after Taylor pick, the junior-college transfer from Northwest Florida State College picked up the foul on his way up.
“That play didn’t get us beat,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said. “It just gets magnified where it came from in the game.”
With NBA scouts in the stands, Taylor led all scorers with 25 points and had 18 of them during a second half comeback to give his head coach his first ever win at Humphrey Coliseum. The 12-year veteran has now gotten a victory in every building in the league.
“He’s just tough,” Stansbury said of Taylor. “That’s the greatest attribute a player can have and that’s why y’all consider him a pro.”
Bryant was in the game after checking in for junior Dee Bost after the Bulldogs (10-9, 2-3 in SEC) point guard chipped his front tooth after taking a bruising fall on the floor and had to check out of the game with less than 2 minutes to go.
Bost, who was with team doctors after the game, was able to return but Bryant was left in the game and MSU’s veteran guard slid to the two-guard position for the final stretch.
Mississippi State has now lost every game they’ve played to a team ranked at least 70th in the latest Ratings Percentage Index and has only two more games (Florida on Saturday and at Kentucky on Feb. 15) to reverse that trend.
Thursday night’s loss marked the fourth time this season Mississippi State has blown a first-half lead. Vanderbilt (15-4, 3-2) outscored the Bulldogs 22-8 over the final 8 minutes of play.
“We just happened to make bad turnovers at bad points in the game,” Stansbury said. “I wanted our team to show some competitiveness and some fight. We did that tonight.”
State’s fast tempo, multiple substitutions and quick shots got their offense into a early rhythm that allowed them to take a four-point halftime lead against the first ranked team visiting Humphrey Coliseum this season.
“Everybody wanted this game really bad but as a player you can’t let one game make you lose focus,” State senior guard Ravern Johnson said.
Johnson led the Bulldogs with 19 points on 5-for-11 from the field and was more effective taking the ball off the dribble toward the basket as the senior wing player was 7-for-8 from free-throw line.
“I was a little more selective on the shots I took and I was just more confident,” Johnson said.
Mississippi State sophomore forward Renardo Sidney was limited to six points in another frustrating night for the 6-foot-10, 270-pounder that saw him foul out with 4:39 left in the contest.
“We don’t have that many big guys so if they are fouling out – what are we going to do?” Johnson said.
The former McDonald’s All-American prospect from two years ago was only able to stay on the court for 13 minutes and was described by his head coach as “no factor at all.”
“All I remember was him checking in and out,” Stansbury said. “(His disqualification) was the factor in the last three minutes.”
Sidney was not available to the media for the sixth-straight game due to a coaches decision.
Mississippi State now has less than 48 hours to prepare for its second consecutive ranked opponent at home when No. 24 Florida comes to Starkville for a noon tip Saturday that will be broadcasted nationally on CBS.