While most of the student population was enjoying Spring Break, the men's basketball team was busy making all the preseason expectations become reality. With an SEC Tournament title in tow, the Bulldogs continued their postseason march with wins in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis, Ind.
Earning a No. 5-seed in the Southeast Regional, Mississippi State held off No. 12-seed Virginia Commonwealth March 14, 58-51, and then dispatched the upset-minded Princeton Tigers March 16,63-61, in second-round action. With the two wins, the Bulldogs earned a spot in the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row. They also earned the right to face No. 1-seed Connecticut tonight in Lexington, Ky., in the regional semifinals. Tip-off is set for 6:40.
Coming off a nationally-televised stomping of then No.1 Kentucky in the finals of the SEC Tournament in New Orleans, La., the Bulldogs were ripe for a fall against the Rams in the first round of the NCAA Tourney. State took a 24-20 halftime lead despite shooting just 31 percent from the field. MSU extended the lead to 40-31 before VCU began to make a run at the Bulldogs. VCU's Bernard Hopkins scored 11 of a game-high 22 points late in the half to put the Rams ahead, 46-45, with 6:07 left in the game. But the Bulldogs answered with a 9-2 run to 54-48.
After an Ivan Chappell 3-pointer, Darryl Wilson made a bad pass after being pinned near the sideline to give VCU one last chance to tie the game. Wilson made up for his error on the Rams' next possession stripping the ball from Chappell. The ball found its way into the hands of Whit Hughes, and he converted two free throws to end the threat. Despite the late turnover, Wilson scored 12 of the Bulldogs' last 16 points. Dontaé Jones also had a productive night with 13 points and 10 rebounds.
“I don't think it was the prettiest win we have ever been involved with, but we'll take it. It's not a beauty contest, and we're happy with the win," head coach Richard Williams said.
The Bulldogs caught a break in the second round as they faced Princeton, upset winners over defending national champions UCLA. The Tigers were playing their hearts out for Pete Carill, the school's legendary head coach, who had announced his retirement before the tournament. Not succumbing to the pitfalls of Princeton's methodical half-court offense, the Bulldogs utilized their every advantage in the 63-41 win.
The Bulldogs shot an impressive 60 percent for the game and out rebounded the Tigers by a whopping 34-15 margin. The Tigers did not even grab one offensive rebound against the much taller MSU frontline. One of the nation's leaders in field-goal defense, State held Princeton to just 35-percent shooting. Erick Dampier scored 20 points on 10-of-12 shooting, and Marcus Bullard dished out a career-high nine assists with zero turnovers.