NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -The Vanderbilt Commodores are really comfortable playing at home in Memorial Gym. Against Mississippi State on Wednesday night, they almost got too cozy.
Jermaine Beal scored 17 points, and No. 18 Vanderbilt held off the Bulldogs 75-72 on Wednesday night, the Commodores' 11th win in 12 games.
``That was a little more interesting at the end than we wanted it to be,' Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings said.
Vanderbilt (17-4, 6-1 Southeastern Conference) bounced back after losing their first league game last weekend at then-No. 1 Kentucky. The Commodores had been on the road for four of the first six games in SEC play, and they looked very happy to be back home before a sold-out crowd where they hadn't lost this season.
But this hasn't been an easy series for the Commodores with Mississippi State having won seven of the past 10.
The Bulldogs (16-6, 4-3) almost did it again, fighting back from a 14-point deficit to get within 73-72 with 28.6 seconds left on a 3-pointer by Dee Bost. Vanderbilt's John Jenkins made two free throws with 6.8 seconds remaining, then Bost missed a 3 before Romero Osby of the Bulldogs missed two free throws with 1 second left.
``We had some dumb plays, but at the same time they were making shots,' Beal said. ``We have a lot of improvement that we can work on in that area.'
Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said his Bulldogs never panicked because it doesn't take long to catch up these days, especially with the Bulldogs hitting an SEC-best nine 3s per game.
``We never gave up. When it comes down to one play on the road - winning or losing - as a coach you'll take that. We just couldn't make the right play at the right time,' Stansbury said.
A.J. Ogilvy added 16 points for Vanderbilt, while Jenkins had 12 and Brad Tinsley 11. The Commodores are 6-1 in SEC play for the first time since 1992-93.
Jarvis Varnado had 12 points, 14 rebounds and nine blocks - seven in the second half - for the Bulldogs. Kodi Augustus had 15 points, Barry Stewart 13 and Bost 12. Varnado and Stewart set the school record by playing in their 127th game. The Bulldogs have lost three of four.
``He has really good timing,' Ogilvy said of Varnado, a Tennessee native. ``Long arms, sees the ball really well and he is able to block a lot of shots.'
The Bulldogs brought in the nation's third-stingiest scoring defense, holding opponents to 36.5 percent shooting. Vanderbilt features the SEC's best shooters in league play, and the Commodores shot 44.6 percent despite going cold late, not scoring from the field after Festus Ezeli's dunk with 4 minutes left.
The Commodores did hit 4 of 6 at the free throw line to preserve the win.
Stallings said his team committed 11 different mistakes as they started playing not to lose.
``We got tentative with the basketball and got careless with our passes and had our turnovers. We just had no flow going on offense,' he said.
Jenkins made what he called a freshman mistake at the end. He was supposed to dribble back out, trying to run out the clock.
``It won't happen again,' Jenkins said.
Vanderbilt led 38-31 at halftime and led twice by 14 points - matching the Bulldogs' biggest deficit this season. Beal's bucket matched the Commodores' biggest lead at 69-55 with 4:40 left. That's when Stewart got going, scoring the next 11 points for the Bulldogs including three 3s.
``The crowd got quiet, they got on the edge of their seats,' Stewart said of his spurt. ``It felt good. But unfortunately we didn't pull it off.'
Bost hit the first of two free throws to pull Mississippi State within 73-69 with 1:27 remaining. Varnado got the rebound, but Stewart missed a jumper with 1:11 to go. Bost stole the ball from Beal, then came down and hit a 3 from the right corner with 28 seconds left to trim the lead to 73-72.
That was as close as they could get.
Vanderbilt looked ready to blow out the Bulldogs in the opening minutes, jumping out 9-3 lead. Mississippi State settled down, and the teams gave a glimpse of the furious finish with six ties and six lead changes. The last tie came at 29 when Phil Turner scored on a putback with 4:04 left.
The Associated Press News Service
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