Loss may knock MSU from top seeds

ATLANTA (AP) -- Just before tipoff, Mississippi State gathered at
midcourt, holding aloft the trophy for its first Southeastern
Conference championship in 13 years.

Then Lawrence Roberts tumbled out of bounds -- and the Bulldogs
were soon tumbling out of the SEC tournament.

Vanderbilt stunned No. 4 Mississippi State in overtime, pulling
off a 74-70 upset in the quarterfinals Friday night to almost
certainly deny the Bulldogs of their bid for a top seed in the

"We had put ourselves in position for a great seed," coach
Rick Stansbury said. "I guess we made the decision a little easier
for the committee as far as who gets a 1 seed and who gets a 2
seed. We'll be happy with a 2 seed."

Roberts, the SEC player of year, had a chance to win it in
regulation for the Bulldogs (25-3) but his 3-pointer at the buzzer
clanged off the back of the rim.

That epitomized the night for Roberts, who wasn't the same
player after he tumbled out of bounds with 14 minutes left in
regulation trying to catch an errant pass. He fell over a cameraman
behind the basket, leaving the Mississippi State star with a
sprained right ankle.

"The hardest thing was getting up and down the floor," said
Roberts, who managed only 13 points on 4-of-12 shooting. "But this
is the time of the season that I can't afford to sit on the bench.

Vanderbilt (21-9) rallied from 11-point deficit early in the
second half and clinched the victory at the free-throw line -- a
spot that gave the Commodores trouble most of the night. Julian
Terrell put them ahead to stay with a couple of foul shots, and
Corey Smith sealed it by hitting two more with 20.2 seconds

Also, one of the SEC's weakest teams on the boards more than
held its own with the Bulldogs, who had led the conference in
rebounding margin. Vanderbilt wound up with a 45-43 edge -- 22 at
the offensive end. Smith led the way with 10 rebounds.

"We just wanted to keep it close," senior Russell Lakey said,
"so something special would happen at the end."

Mississippi State was playing its fourth overtime game of the
season -- and second in a row. The Bulldogs survived an 82-81 scare
from Alabama last weekend, after also beating Santa Clara and South
Carolina in OT.

But the fourth time was not the charm for the SEC's
regular-season champions, who received their trophy from
commissioner Mike Slive just before the game.

"I believe we're a No. 1 seed based on how hard we worked all
season," Roberts said. "Unfortunately, we lost tonight, but
sometimes you run into a team that's got some glass slippers."

Mario Moore scored 17 points and Terrell added 16 to lead five
Vanderbilt players in double figures.

The Bulldogs didn't get much from their two big guns. Timmy
Bowers, another member of the All-SEC team, matched Roberts by
shooting 4-of-12 and making eight costly turnovers -- including the
pass that led to his teammate's injury.

"Timmy has made some great plays for us all year long,"
Stansbury said. "I would have the ball in his hands in every one
of those situations."

Vanderbilt, assuring itself of a spot in the NCAA tournament,
advanced to face Florida in Saturday's semifinals.

Kentucky -- suddenly the heavy favorite to win another SEC
tournament -- will meet South Carolina in the other semifinal.

Mississippi State appeared poised for a blowout, going up 41-30
when Bowers swished a 3 with 16:59 left. But Smith answered with a
trey, then Vandy scored two quick baskets off steals.

Suddenly, it was 41-37.

Not long after that, Roberts went down. He was only out for 3{
minutes, returning to the game with his ankle heavily taped and in
obvious pain. He wasn't the same player.

Still, the Bulldogs had a chance to escape. Roberts hit a pair
of free throws with 48 seconds left for a 65-64 lead. Matt Freije
tied it up for Vanderbilt by making 1-of-2 at the line with 33.8
seconds left -- giving Mississippi State the last shot.

It wasn't the one they were looking for. Roberts wound up with
the ball near the top of the key and had to fire up a 3-pointer --
only his 35th attempt of the season from outside the arc. He missed
all three of his long-range shots against Vanderbilt.

Bowers' got sloppy in the final minute of overtime.

He appeared to have an opening to the basket on a fast break,
but threw the ball away. Another chance to tie it up was wasted
when Bowers spotted Brandon Vincent alone under the basket, but
passed it so hard his teammate couldn't get his hands up in time.
The ball sailed out of bounds for another turnover.

The Bulldogs finished with 19 in all.

For a while, it looked as though Vanderbilt would waste its
chance for the upset with poor foul shooting. The Commodores were
only 14-of-25 overall, but 7-of-8 in overtime was good enough to
keep playing this weekend.

Mississippi State, meanwhile, will try to regroup before the
NCAA tournament.

"I don't care if we're a 1, 2 or 3 seed," Vincent said.
"We're going to be a dangerous team."


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