By Matthew Stevens
ATLANTA – It was unclear if John Jenkins' left foot would allow him to play in Friday night’ Southeastern Conference Tournament quarterfinal matchup.
Vanderbilt’s sophomore guard didn’t limp, favor or drag that foot at all in their 87-81 victory over Mississippi State. He simply used it to step on the throat of the Bulldogs’ 2010-11 basketball season.
“My anticipation would be that he’ll be more sore than he’s ever been,” Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings said. “What he did was simply amazing tonight and maybe what he did special to get ready should be the routine from now on.”
Jenkins, the SEC’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, did not play in Thursday’s first round victory over LSU due to a severe foot injury but returned to the starting lineup to earn a game-high 29 points.
In the last 90 seconds of action, the 6-foot-4 guard connected on three free throws after being fouled on a three-point attempt, connected on a four-point play and scored the final bucket of the game.
Jenkins had help from his friends as Commodores junior guard Jeffery Taylor dominated nearly every time he got the ball at the wing similarly to when he took over the game in January in Starkville with 20 points in 37 minutes in front of 17,096 in the Georgia Dome.
“We’ve got some weapons but you simply can’t teach what those two individuals did tonight,” Stallings said.
The Commodores (23-9), who may be in line for a 4-or-5 seed in the 2011 NCAA Tournament next week, shot 7-for-11 from beyond the three-point arc in the second half. Vanderbilt’s 51 second-half points are the most State gave up all season long.
Vanderbilt will now play Florida in the semifinal round today as the Gators downed Tennessee on the night they were given the SEC regular season championship trophy.
The Bulldogs finish the 2010-11 regular season at 17-14, the third-lowest win total in the 13 years under Stansbury and is the first time since 2006 that MSU will leave the Southeastern Conference Tournament without a victory.
Mississippi State will now have to wait until Sunday night to learn if it has qualified for an at-large berth to the 2011 National Invitational Tournament.
“I’m not sure we could play much better,” Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury said. “I don’t know what we could have done differently to guard Jenkins especially in that second half.”
A little over a minute into the game, Mississippi State sophomore forward Renardo Sidney had to check out of the game after picking up his second foul. Shortly after the former McDonald’s All-American sat down between Bulldogs assistants Phil Cunningham and Marcus Grant, senior forward Kodi Augustus did the same thing. At the 14:46 mark in the first half, the Bulldogs frontcourt consisted of Wendell Lewis, Riley Benock and Shaun Smith.
“I know our bigs kept going out but we had great production out of our bench guys like Wendell and Brandon (Bolen),” MSU senior guard Ravern Johnson said.
Sidney came back with a furry in the second half by scoring 20 of his team-high 22 points in the final 16 minutes he was on the floor.
Throughout all the mixing and matching that was the first 20 minutes of action, an off-balanced leaner in the lane as time expired by Dee Bost gave underdog and undermanned Mississippi State squad a two-point halftime advantage.
It was the bench production of sophomore forward Lewis and junior point guard Brian Bryant that kept the Bulldogs from imploding early as the inside-out duo combined for 12 points in the first 20 minutes of play.
Lewis, who immediately checked in for Sidney, finished just short of career-highs in points (6) and rebounds (5).
The guard duo of Bost and Johnson led the MSU offense with 21 first-half points while making half their shots.
In possibly his last game in a MSU uniform, Johnson finished with 18 points on 6-for-13 shooting from the field.
The play of Bryant allowed Bost, who finished with 16 points to slide to the shooting guard position but the junior still ran the team well enough early on with 11 assists for the evening. It represented the second double-double of the season for the 6-foot-2 guard.
In the locker room after the game, Bost stated he would return to Mississippi State next season.
Augustus’ final regular season game in his MSU career ended in foul-plagued frustration as the Bulldogs power forward could manage just 10 points and two rebounds.
“It sucks,” Augustus said. “I mean, it's been great here at Mississippi State. This loss hurts.”