March 20, 2007
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) – Jamont Gordon had 16 points and seven assists and Mississippi State beat Florida State 86-71 on Tuesday night to advance to the NIT semifinals.
The North Region’s top-seeded Bulldogs (21-13) held Al Thornton, one of college basketball’s most dynamic players, to 22 minutes and 16 points for the second-seeded Seminoles (22-13). Mississippi State will play the winner of the North Carolina State-West Virginia game in the NIT semifinals next Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
Thornton drew two personal fouls in the first 4 minutes of the game, then two more in the first 5 minutes of the second half. Without their star, the Seminoles wilted under Mississippi State’s ball-hawking man-to-man defense.
The Bulldogs’ pressure resulted in 15 steals and 25 turnovers, and the game would have been out of hand midway through the first half without the play of Florida State’s Isaiah Swann.
Swann scored 31 points, including nine 3-pointers, to keep the game within reach.
Mississippi State has won five of six and nine of its last 12, and extended its school record to 16 home wins.
Charles Rhodes added 14 points, Dietric Slater scored 13 and three others scored 10 or more points for the Bulldogs.
Thornton was only three points below his average of 19.8 points per game, but wasn’t a factor playing with four fouls much of the second half. He failed to reach 700 points for the season, finishing 10 shy.
The Bulldogs built a 42-29 halftime lead with a kinetic defense that led to eight steals, 15 Seminoles turnovers and 17 points off those turnovers in the first 20 minutes.
Mississippi State went right at Thornton from the start of the game. And with the Seminoles’ most athletic player out of the way, the Bulldogs used runs of 8-0, 9-0 and 8-3 at the end of the half to gain control of the game.
It took sensational shooting from Swan, who scored 19 points in the first half, to keep FSU in the game. He hit his first four 3-pointers and first five shots to briefly give the Seminoles a 22-21 lead with 8:10 left until halftime. But the Bulldogs outscored the Seminoles 21-7 to end the half.
The Bulldogs led by as much as 17 in the second half and withstood two Seminoles runs. With 10 minutes left in the game, Thornton stole the ball and dunked. He was fouled but missed his free throw and was 1-of-2 on a technical foul called after the play, effectively ending FSU’s chances.