Vanderbilt finally won a Southeastern Conference road game and Commodores coach Kevin Stallings finally won at Mississippi State.
Jeffery Taylor scored 17 of his game-high 25 points in the second half, and his steal and emphatic slam dunk with 16.3 seconds left sealed an 81-74 victory as No. 19 Vanderbilt hung on in Starkville, Miss., on Thursday.
After blowing two double-digit leads at South Carolina and at Tennessee in the last three weeks, the Commodores (15-4, 3-2 SEC) rallied from eight down with 10 minutes left. It is the first time since 1993 that Vanderbilt has won at Mississippi State, giving Stallings — in his 12th year — his first win there in six tries.
It didn’t look promising early though as the Commodores trailed 37-33 at halftime.
“Our locker room at halftime was not a pretty scene. We got after them probably more than we have all season long,” Stallings said in his postgame radio interview. “We weren’t playing the way you have to win on the road. ... So we got after them pretty good. I’m proud of a couple guys, especially Jeffery Taylor because he got an earful from a couple guys and he came out and played brilliant in the second half.”
Mississippi State (10-9, 2-3) took a 61-53 lead on Dee Bost’s 3-pointer with 10:06 remaining in the game.
Taylor lifted the Commodores back in it when he scored the team’s next six points. After teammate Lance Goulbourne scored a layup, drew a foul and hit the free throw for the three-point play, John Jenkins took over. He scored nine straight points — including seven from the free-throw line — as Vanderbilt took a 71-66 lead with 4:43 to go.
But the Bulldogs wouldn’t go away. They scored the next six points and went ahead 72-71 with 3:34 left. Vanderbilt responded with its own 6-0 run, capped off by a Festus Ezeli hook shot for a 77-72 lead with 2:18 to go.
After a Brian Bryant layup, Mississippi State had three chances to cut into it. But a 3-pointer by Bost missed and a follow-up basket by Bryant was blocked by Ezeli.
Still, after a turnover by Goulbourne, Mississippi State had a chance to tie with less than 20 seconds left. The full-court press was effective as Taylor jumped in front of a pass by Bryant and raced in for a big dunk to give Vanderbilt an insurmountable five-point lead.
“We came up with some critical stops when we needed to in the end,” Taylor said. “We kind of got them sped up and out of their comfort zone.”
Jenkins added 21 points and six rebounds. Ezeli had 14 points despite picking up his fourth foul with nearly 11 minutes remaining in the game. Goulbourne finished just one point shy of his third straight double-double, scoring nine points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
For Mississippi State, Renardo Sidney, who fouled out with less than five minutes left, had 19 points and Bost added 18.
The Commodores have won three straight and improved to 2-3 in true road games this season. They return home to play Arkansas at 5 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be aired on the Fox Sports Network.