State fights for win

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 28, 2002

NEW ORLEANS &045; Just by arguing the sheer physics of it all, something had to give between Mississippi State and Oklahoma &045; two teams ranked high in the Top 25 due much to their defense.

So when push came to shove late in the game with both teams trading punches, State made the biggest move.

What resulted was an 18-2 run that gave the No. 16 Bulldogs just enough comfort to survive a bad spell late in the game to take a 54-45 win Saturday in the first game of the Nokia Sugar Bowl Classic at the New Orleans Arena.

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&uot;I thought there were two teams out there kind of in a dogfight, a fistfight,&uot; Oklahoma head coach Kelvin Sampson said. &uot;It was hard to get easy baskets. If you told me we would out-rebound Mississippi State, hold Mario Austin to 18 and hold them to 36 percent shooting, I thought we’d have won the game. It was two good defensive teams, and it was hard for either team to look good offensively.&uot;

Neither team’s shooting percentage is something you’d want to take home to mom on a Saturday night, but that’s how it was with the two teams battling on defense. It wasn’t until over seven minutes into the second half until somebody appeared to feel comfortable on offense &045; the point where State pulled the 18-2 run over the No. 5 Sooners.

&uot;That was a great college basketball game,&uot; State head coach Rick Stansbury said. &uot;From a fan’s standpoint, I don’t think you could have seen two better teams going at it. To get a win against a quality team like Oklahoma &045; Oklahoma is definitely one of the better teams in the country. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t be there in the end.&uot;

Austin finished with 18 points and eight rebounds &045; both game highs &045; but got the biggest basket late after Oklahoma rallied to cut the lead to three as two free throws from Hollis Price capped a 7-0 run.

Austin got the ball inside, drove strong to the bucket, got fouled and hit the basket with 58 seconds left. He put in the foul shot to put the lead at 51-45 and allow his team to let out a sigh of relief.

&uot;He’s a huge factor on that team,&uot; OU guard Quannas White said. &uot;He can score off the block and shoot from 15 feet. He’s what makes them a good basketball team offensively. We couldn’t get any stops defensively.&uot;

Austin’s production inside and OU’s lack thereof made the difference as the Sooners had just 16 points in the paint to State’s 30. After Oklahoma missed a 3-point attempt following Austin’s three-point play, State got a fast-break dunk from Derrick Zimmerman with 42 seconds left to put the lead at eight.

OU missed another shot, and State went to Austin, who hit one of two free throws with 28 seconds left to ice it.

&uot;I just wanted to get out there and help my team get a win,&uot; Austin said. &uot;I thought I played a big role as far as running the court. When they ran the court, they were getting tired. We knew we were going to have to be physical down there. Oklahoma plays real tough defense.&uot;

State came up with its biggest defensive stand early in the second half after OU got 3-pointers from White and Price to break a 30-30 tie with 14:53 left. Price tossed in the second one, and that sent off a surge from State since OU was held to just one field goal over the next 10:07.

&uot;A good defensive team will take you out of your shots,&uot; Price said. &uot;But the main thing is you’ve got to make plays. We made plays, but we didn’t make enough. They’re probably one of the best athletic teams we’ve played yet. They’re real athletic, and speed-wise they’re up there with myself and a couple other people around the country.&uot;

Austin hit two free throws after that, and Winsome Frazier dunked one home to spark the 18-2 run &045; a span where each team traded an offensive foul.