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Mississippi State vs. Vanderbilt: How Two Games against One Team Shaped a Season and Beyond

Mississippi State finished the regular season in a nasty funk, and their loss to Vanderbilt may have helped prevent a slide should it have been a victory.

Two games against the same team may have done more to shape the 2013-2014 season and beyond for Mississippi State than any other games this year.  The Bulldogs suffered a disheartening loss during the season in Nashville at Vanderbilt, but the pain of an extended losing streak started to ease when the Bulldogs managed to defeat the Commodores in the first round of the SEC Tournament in Atlanta.

The Bulldogs entered February at 3-4 in the SEC and on a two game losing streak, but the first month of SEC of play warmed the spirits of Mississippi State fans.  The Bulldogs had been competitive against Kentucky, and they had given a great showing in their matchup against Florida.  Hopes were high when the Maroon and White traveled to Nashville with what appeared to be a great opportunity to even their SEC record against a Vanderbilt team that found itself in a similar situation of difficult games and shorthandedness.

Unfortunately, the Bulldogs ended up having one of their most challenging games of the season on February 1 in Nashville. Craig Sword, who entered the game playing well, finished 2-10 for four points.  Gavin Ware only managed to put up nine points.  Fred Thomas shouldered the load early in the game, but he could not carry the team the whole way.

Even with the struggles, the Bulldogs managed to hold the lead for the majority of the first half, but Vanderbilt eventually took control of the game, and even though the Bulldogs closed the gap, they never could manage to regain the lead. After the loss, Mississippi State seemed to hit a wall.  The Bulldogs went on to lose their next ten games, and eight of those losses came by double digit margins, rarely looking competitive.

Redemption did find it find its way into the story in the SEC tournament when Mississippi State played arguably its best game of the season, knocking off Vanderbilt 82-68 in a game that Mississippi State coach Rick Ray said would define the team going forward.  Will the momentum of that win carry over into 2014-2015?  The Bulldogs will have a long post-season wait to learn the answer.