Vanderbilt looks to right ship vs. Mississippi State

NCAA Basketball

Two Southeastern Conference teams with seasons heading in opposite directions meet on Saturday when Mississippi State visits Vanderbilt at Nashville, Tenn.

Mississippi State (7-4, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) is coming off a 78-63 upset victory over 13th-ranked Missouri on Tuesday. D.J. Stewart Jr. (24 points on 10-for-14 shooting), Iverson Molinar (20 points) and Tolu Smith (15 points, nine rebounds) led the Bulldogs, who trailed by 12 at halftime.

Stewart leads the Bulldogs in scoring (18.8), while shooting 47.6 percent from the field and 43.5 percent from 3-point range.

“D.J. really got us going when we were down and he was unbelievable,” Mississippi State coach Ben Howland said. “He had 13 points in a row at one stretch in the second half and we kept going to him.”

Molnar, who missed the first three games due to a positive COVID-19 test, is scoring 18.6 points per game and leads the team in assists (3.6) and 3-point shooting percentage (51.6). The Bulldogs are 6-2 when he plays, with both losses coming in double overtime (Kentucky and Dayton). Molnar was sidelined during 11-point losses to Clemson and Liberty.

Mississippi State allows just 43.8 percent shooting on 2-pointers only with help from the 6-foot-10 Smith and 6-11 Abdul Ado, who have 12 and 22 blocks respectively.

Vanderbilt (4-4, 0-2 SEC) has struggled with big men in conference games.

In its 91-72 home loss to Florida, 6-11 junior Colin Castleton enjoyed a career night with 23 points on 11-of-13 shooting.

In Tuesday’s 77-74 loss at Kentucky, Wildcats center Olivier Sarr had a season-high 24 points and was 14 of 17 at the foul line.

Vanderbilt point guard Scotty Pippen Jr. posted 18 points, eight assists and eight rebounds against Kentucky. Pippen leads Vanderbilt in minutes (32.6), scoring (22.0), assists (5.0) and steals (1.6), while shooting 45.7 percent from the field and 81.1 percent from the free-throw line.

Vanderbilt has struggled to find help outside Pippen and Dylan Disu (12.3 points, 9.0 rebounds, 1.0 blocks). But freshman Myles Stute has scored 43 points in 81 minutes over three games following a one-month absence due to COVID-19.

The Commodores also got a boost from Jordan Wright, who had season-highs in points (18) and minutes (28) on 6-of-10 shooting against the Wildcats.

Vanderbilt coach Jerry Stackhouse left Lexington, Ky., encouraged despite the loss.

“I thought our guys fought and competed,” Stackhouse said. “The things that we worked on this week, they really brought it to the game. I thought the ball was really popping in the first half, [we] got some really good looks and really good opportunities.”

–Field Level Media

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