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Tolu Smith III leads Mississippi State past Vanderbilt

Jan 20, 2024; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs forward Tolu Smith (1) drives to the basket during the first half against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Humphrey Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Tolu Smith III scored 25 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Mississippi State past Vanderbilt 68-55 in Starkville, Miss. on Saturday afternoon.

The Bulldogs (13-6, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) struggled from the foul line, hitting just 54.5 percent on 22 attempts. But Mississippi State outscored the Commodores (5-13, 0-5) in the paint (36-18), won the rebounding battle (45-33) and held Vanderbilt’s leading scorer, Ezra Manjon, who came in averaging 16 points, to three points.

Tyrin Lawrence (16 points), Ven Allen Lubin (11) and Evan Taylor (11) scored in double figures for Vanderbilt, which lost for the fifth time in a row and ninth time in 10 games.

The Bulldogs’ Josh Hubbard (11) and D.J. Jeffries (10) also scored in double figures.

Mississippi State led by 19 early in the second half after Smith’s jumper with 16:44 left, but Vanderbilt tried a seldom-used full-court press to slow down the Bulldogs.

That was enough to help trim the lead to 11, but a late-game field-goal drought of more than three minutes prevented the Commodores from cutting the deficit to single digits at any point in the half.

Smith scored 10 points in the first half to help the Bulldogs take a 36-21 lead into the break.

The Commodores went scoreless for more than six minutes and Mississippi State capitalized, going on a 14-0 run to take a 24-12 lead with 7:04 left in the first half.

The Bulldogs went into the bonus with 6:13 left and into the double-bonus at the 4:17 mark when Shakeel Moore hit a pair of free throws to give the Bulldogs a 28-17 advantage.

Hubbard’s 3-pointer with one second left in the half gave MSU its biggest lead of the period.

Smith, who missed Mississippi State’s first 12 games with a foot injury, has scored at least 13 points in each of his six games since returning.

Vanderbilt’s front court, already hampered with the loss of Lee Dort (suspension) and Colin Smith (season-ending Achilles injury), was missing JaQualon Roberts (hip), who’s started the previous two contests.

–Field Level Media

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