Mississippi State Basketball: Mississippi State 64, Memphis 77
Mississippi State made its first-ever NIT championship appearance but could not finish the job, falling to No. 1 seed Memphis, 77-64, on Sunday. The Bulldogs finish the 2020-21 season at 18-15 (8-10 SEC), while the Tigers cap off a 20-8 season with an NIT title.
Sunday’s start was less than ideal for Mississippi State. Memphis seized control by jumping out to a 13-0 lead, with the Bulldogs finally getting on the board on Deivon Smith‘s three-pointer at the 12:47 mark.
Mississippi State began chipping away at the lead towards the end of the first half, cutting the Tiger lead to six with 5:47 to go after an Abdul Ado dunk. After Lester Quinones knocked down a three to extend Memphis’s lead to nine, Mississippi State used a 12-3 run over the final 2:45 to tie the game at 33, seizing the momentum heading into the locker room.
That momentum, however, quickly went back to the Tigers when the two teams resumed play after the break. Landers Nolley scored the game’s next five points to start the second half, putting Memphis up 38-33.
Mississippi State got within three after Ado knocked down a pair of free throws, but Boogie Ellis responded with back-to-back threes to put Memphis up nine with 15:29 to play. The Bulldogs never got within six of the Tigers the rest of the way.
Memphis led by as many as 17 in the final minutes, as it seemed Mississippi State just simply ran out of gas against a talented Tiger team. Memphis did a great job locking down on the Bulldogs’ stars Iverson Molinar and DJ Stewart. The two combined for just 10 points on 3-for-17 from the floor. Stewart’s only field goal came with 2:38 left in the second half.
The Bulldogs did have a couple of bright spots despite the 13-point loss. Cameron Matthews led Mississippi State offensively, scoring a career-high 19 on 3-of-5 from the three-point range. Deivon Smith finished with 17 points. Abdul Ado finished eight points and 11 rebounds in what was likely his final game in maroon and white.
Boogie Ellis led Memphis with 23 points on 4-of-7 from outside, and former Mississippi State target DJ Jeffries finished with 15 points off the bench. DeAndre Williams and Landers Nolley each finished in double-figures with 12 and 10, respectively.
Mississippi State ends the rollercoaster season with a record of 18-15. Next season is sure to be a make-or-break season for Ben Howland, who should return a team that will be brimming with SEC potential. The NCAA Tournament should be the expectation for the 2021-22 Bulldogs.