MSU takes on Tigers

Published 12:44 am Sunday, March 23, 2008

Charles Rhodes kept Mississippi State in the game. When his teammates finally started helping, the Bulldogs rallied past Oregon.

And it didn’t hurt that the Ducks suddenly lost their shooting touch.

Rhodes scored a career-high 34 points and the eighth-seeded Bulldogs overcame a 13-point, second-half deficit for a 76-69 victory over ninth-seeded Oregon on Friday night.

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Mississippi State trailed 41-28 after Malik Hairston’s 3-pointer at the start of the second half, but Oregon didn’t make another 3 until the final seconds, finishing 9-for-38 and 2-of-21 after halftime.

Rhodes scored six straight points to start the Bulldogs’ rally — part of an 8-0 run that cut the lead to five. Mississippi State then fell behind by nine before Barry Stewart made a 3-pointer with just over 13 minutes remaining — the Bulldogs’ first of the game after 12 straight misses.

Until that shot, only four players had scored for Mississippi State. Stewart went on to make three more 3-pointers and finished with 16 points.

Stewart’s third 3 pulled the Bulldogs within one at 52-51. Rhodes then put Mississippi State (23-10) ahead with a dunk.

The Bulldogs finally took control with Stewart’s final 3-pointer, which gave them a 66-60 lead. He was so open in front of the Mississippi State bench that coach Rick Stansbury discretely pointed to him, and Jamont Gordon eventually threw him the ball.

Gordon had eight points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

The Bulldogs are making their fifth NCAA tournament appearance under Stansbury. He’s now taken them to the second round four times, but never further than that.

Mississippi State will face top-seeded Memphis after the Tigers beat Texas-Arlington in the second round of the South Regional on Sunday. The matchup with Memphis will be the Bulldogs’ first against their regional rival since 1984.

Hairston scored 22 points for Oregon, but when the Ducks (18-14) stopped making outside shots, their offense went into disarray. That was the case for most of the second half.

Jarvis Varnado finished with 11 points, eight rebounds and four blocks for the Bulldogs. He’s now blocked 152 shots this season, five fewer than Shaquille O’Neal when Shaq set the Southeastern Conference record in 1991-92.

Seven of the Ducks’ first nine shots were 3-pointers as they kept their distance from Varnado. Oregon shot 3-pointers in transition and from its set offense, using a variety of perimeter screens to set them up. The Ducks made seven in the first half, including 5-foot-6 Tajuan Porter’s high-arching effort in the final seconds that gave Oregon a 38-28 halftime lead.