Mississippi State meets Vanderbilt in game with huge bubble stakes

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Mississippi State and Vanderbilt have spent the past four-plus weeks racking up victories and bolstering their NCAA Tournament resumes.

But the Commodores will have to overcome a major blow when they host the Bulldogs in Saturday’s Southeastern Conference regular-season finale in Nashville, Tenn.

Vanderbilt lost standout center Liam Robbins for the rest of the season with a broken right leg.

Robbins sustained the injury with 15:45 left in the first half of Wednesday’s epic 68-66 win at No. 23 Kentucky. He underwent surgery on Friday, according to coach Jerry Stackhouse.

“Liam has been unbelievable for us this year,” Stackhouse told Nashville radio station 102.5 FM. “He has gotten better and better since he has been here. Obviously he battled with some injuries before that, but when he is playing at a high level, it elevated our whole team to a high level and gave our team a lot of confidence. And I’m sure that confidence is gonna carry on with our group through the remainder of our games.

“But unfortunately he won’t be able to finish up with us.”

Robbins leads Vanderbilt (17-13, 10-7 SEC) in scoring (15.0 points per game) and rebounding (6.8), with his 82 blocked shots ranked third on the school’s all-time single-season list. This was his second season with the Commodores after playing two seasons at Drake and one at Minnesota.

Despite losing Robbins, Vanderbilt claimed its first road win at Kentucky in 16 years when Jordan Wright knocked down a turnaround jumper with 2.6 seconds left to cap a season-best 23-point outing. The shot gave the Commodores their seventh win in the past eight games.

“This was a game we had to win to keep our hopes alive for March Madness,” Wright said. “Every game is a huge game for us, but this is one that we needed.”

Mississippi State (20-10, 8-9) has won eight of its past 10 games after delivering a 74-68 home win over South Carolina on Tuesday. That victory followed up a 69-62 home victory over then-No. 25 Texas A&M.

The Bulldogs didn’t seem capable of making an NCAA Tournament run when they began 1-7 in SEC play. But Mississippi State’s lone conference setbacks since then are a three-point loss to Kentucky and a two-point overtime setback at Missouri.

Guard Shakeel Moore said the chemistry has been much better.

“This team’s been different,” Moore said. “You notice it, we’re all more together. We’re all with each other every day.”

Moore scored 20 points on 9-for-15 shooting against the Gamecocks. It marked his third outing of 20 or more this season.

Tolu Smith leads the Bulldogs with season averages of 15.0 points and 8.2 rebounds. He has scored in double digits in 14 straight games.

Mississippi State has won four of the past five head-to-head meetings against Vanderbilt.

–Field Level Media

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