ATLANTA — The bizarre fortune that saw Mississippi State”s front court depleted by foul trouble actually produced a bright spot in its 87-81 loss to Vanderbilt.
The Bulldogs” bench, which had been under fire at times this season for not producing enough, came through with quality minutes in the first half when forwards Renardo Sidney and Kodi Augustus each drew fouls and sat the majority of the period.
MSU”s post depth was so depleted, Stansbury had no choice but to piece together a lineup to make it to halftime.
What he got was a motivated second platoon that produced 28 combined first-half minutes from sophomore forward Wendell Lewis and Brian Bryant, each of whom scored six points in the first half and combined for nine boards. Lewis was especially active on the offensive glass, scoring on three put-backs in the first half.
The Bulldogs carried a 38-36 lead into the break thanks the bench effort, and the offense from Bost and Johnson, who had 11 and 10, respectively.
Seldom-used senior guard Brandon Bolen played three minutes in a crucial stretch, as did center John Riek, who also got into foul trouble.
With five minutes to go in the first half, all four of MSU”s post players had two fouls or more, with Riek carrying three.
“We got a lot of people coming off the bench and played big for us tonight,” senior guard Ravern Johnson said.
Said coach Rick STansbury: “Those guys, hey, they were giving me everything they had, plus a little bit more. I think [Lewis] had six points? Six rebounds? He”s having to play though fatigue.
“But Brian Bryant came in and played really good in that first half for us. Both of those guys had good stats, too. They were the reason we were able to keep that lead in the first.”
Postseason play for the Bulldogs?
Mississippi State”s chances of making the NCAA tournament hinged on winning the SEC tournament.
After being eliminated Friday, the Bulldogs turn their attention to the NIT, where they hope to make the 32-team field.
The NIT field is selected after the NCAA tournament selection committee picks its 68 teams on Sunday.
With a 17-14 record, the Bulldogs will be up against teams with fewer losses and better RPI numbers. Even Ole Miss, which lost both of its games to MSU this season, could make the NIT after clinching its fourth 20-win season under Andy Kennedy.
If the Bulldogs do make the NIT field, they will have done so for the second straight year. They were a No. 1 seed last season but were eliminated by North Carolina in the second round.
“I”ve never had to campaign for the NIT, so I”m not going to campaign for it,” Stansbury said. “I”ve campaigned the NCAA several times, but I don”t know where it lies. Seems to be a lot of upsets going on, and I don”t know who in our league — we did finish second in the West and we went 9-7. Forget what we were November, December. We”re a different team right now.
“I”ll say this, don”t matter if we make it or not, we will be as good as a lot of those 32 teams in it. I don”t think anybody would disagree with that.”
MSU hasn”t missed postseason play since the 2006-06 season.
Bost staying put; Sidney undecided
It”s never too early to be thinking about next season, especially with what the Bulldogs showed down the stretch of this season.
Junior point guard Dee Bost, who missed all of non-conference play serving an NCAA suspension and working to regain academic eligibility, earned Second Team All-SEC honors for the second year in a row and said Friday that he will return for his senior season.
Bost can”t test the draft waters again and have the option to return to school after doing so last season, which ultimately cost he and the Bulldogs with six non-conference losses in a jumbled schedule.
Renardo Sidney, however, says he hasn”t made a decision on his collegiate future.
“Wait till I get home and see where we go, NIT or whatever,” Sidney said. “Then I”ll make my decision then.”
While Sidney is non-committal on his MSU future, he”s hinted at a possible return on separate occasions this week.
On Tuesday, he spoke about working with strength coach Richard Akins in the offseason, and had this statement Friday: “Hopefully the next year I come back and we get the SEC next year.”
If Sidney does return, MSU”s lineup has the potential to be lethal with transfer forward Arnett Moultrie becoming eligible. Bost would return at point guard, with Jalen Steele — who will be rehabbing a torn ACL in the offseason — Brian Bryant and Wendell Lewis all returning.
Star recruit Rodney Hood gets to campus in the fall, and signees Deville Smith and David Gardner give MSU immediate depth.