Bulldogs look to defend home turf against Tulsa
By By Richard Dark/The Meridian Star
March 21, 2001
STARKVILLE The Mississippi State Bulldogs are on the cusp of something special after a season fraught with bad luck and bad losses, both on the court and in the locker room.
And all they need to do to erase the negativity this season has brought is beat the Tulsa Golden Hurricane in tonight's TiVo National Invitation Tournament quarterfinal game in the friendly confines of Humphrey Coliseum.
For the first time in the tournament, State will be on television, as the game can be seen on ESPN2.
A victory tonight will send Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs to the Big Apple for the "other" Final Four which will take place next Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
The one thing MSU officials probably won't have to worry about tonight is low fan turnout.
Last Wednesday, with both State and Southern Miss in the midst of spring break, the first round game at the Hump' only drew a little less than 5,000 fans. After an impressive road win over Pittsburgh, a Big East squad that nearly won its way into the NCAA Tournament, Stansbury guaranteed a packed house for the first basketball meeting between the two schools.
But if the Bulldogs are to navigate into uncharted waters, they will have to weather a tough Hurricane team that comes in with a record of 23-11. Tulsa is no stranger to winning tough road contests, having ventured up to Minnesota and stunning the Golden Gophers, 76-73.
For State, all of the pain and bitterness that comes from being the team with the highest RPI to not make the field of 65 seems to have evaporated. Now, it seems as if MSU is focused and is strictly in it to win it.
The Golden Hurricane also fell just shy of making the NCAAs. The Western Athletic Conference member came up short against Hawaii in the conference tournament finals, losing by six.
MSU is led by guard Antonio Jackson, who averages 13 points a game. Senior forward Tang Hamilton follows close behind with 12 a game.
But, if they are to continue the NIT ride to the city that never sleeps, they will need more of the heroics that guard Derrick Zimmerman and forward Michael Gholar displayed in the closing moments of the Monday night win over the Panthers.
Each nailed clutch treys in the final minute of play. Zimmerman, who had been averaging just under four points, came off the bench to score 15. Marckell Patterson added 11 and senior center Quentin Smith, who has stepped up since the late-season departure of Robert Jackson, chipped in with 10.
Tulsa still has plenty of firepower left over from the team that made it all the way to the Elite Eight last year, as all five starters are averaging double figures.
Forward Kevin Johnson leads the storm with 13.7 points and seven rebounds. Marcus Hill and David Shaton each pump in an even dozen.
Tulsa won the NIT crown in 1981.
Richard Dark is a sports writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at email@example.com.