Bulldogs fall to Memphis in NIT championship game

Cameron Matthews and Deivon Smith have career days, but it's not enough for MSU
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Mississippi State played in its first-ever NIT championship game on Sunday, but the Bulldogs came up short as MSU fell 77-64 to Memphis. Courtesy of Mississippi State media relations, below is a recap of what went down as the maroon and white wraps up its year with an 18-15 overall record. Also note that guard Deivon Smith's full postgame press conference can be viewed with the video at the top of this page and head coach Ben Howland's full postgame press conference can be seen by CLICKING HERE. Now, onto the recap:

Cameron Matthews and Deivon Smith pumped in career-high scoring performances en route to a combined 36 points, nine rebounds and six assists as the Mississippi State men’s basketball team dropped a 77-64 decision to Memphis in Sunday’s NIT Championship Game at the Comerica Center.

Mississippi State (18-15) made its third straight appearance when postseason tournaments have been played and reached the NIT Finals for the first time in program history.

Matthews sparked State’s offensive effort and piled up 11 of his career-best 19 points during the first half. He connected on three of his six field goals from three-point territory and was 4-of-6 at the foul line. It marked Matthews’ first double-digit scoring output in the Maroon and White. The Olive Branch native also came one shy of his career-high with six rebounds and dished out three assists.

Smith compiled his fifth game in double figures with a 17-point performance. The 17 points were the fifth highest scoring output by a Bulldog off the bench during a NIT game. Smith also tacked on three rebounds and handed out three assists.

Abdul Ado worked his way to eight points and two blocks. The two blocks enabled the Nigeria native to move into a second-place tie with Erick Dampier (1994-95-96) on MSU’s all-time blocks list. Ado also secured 11 rebounds in back-to-back NIT games to become the eighth player in program history to eclipse 800 career rebounds.

Iverson Molinar and D.J. Stewart Jr., who each earned NIT All-Tournament Team recognition, were limited to a combined 10 points and misfired on 14 of their 17 shot attempts. Stewart Jr. came away with four rebounds and a trio of assists.

Derek Fountain and Andersson Garcia rounded out the scoring with six and four points, respectively, for the Bulldogs. Fountain grabbed five rebounds and recorded a block, while Garcia notched a rebound and a steal.

Mississippi State hit on 23-of-60 from the field (38.3 percent), dialed up 6-for-21 clip on its three-point attempts (28.6 percent) and sank 12-of-19 from the foul line (63.2 percent). The Bulldogs worked their way to a 21-18 edge in bench points.

Memphis (20-8) claimed the battle of the boards by a 44-36 margin. The Tigers distributed 14 assists against 11 turnovers, while State tallied 11 assists and 14 turnovers.

The Tigers connected for a 26-of-61 shooting performance (42.6 percent), 10-of-22 on its three-pointers (45.5 percent) and were 15-of-22 at the charity stripe (68.2 percent).

Memphis received 23 points, five assists and four rebounds from Boogie Ellis, who knocked down four triples. D.J. Jeffries rattled home 15 points, five rebounds and five blocks followed by DeAndre Williams and Landers Nolley II with 12 and 10 points for the Tigers.

FROM THE BENCH WITH COACH HOWLAND

“For the game, we shot only 38 percent [from the field]. Our two leading scorers, who had been terrific all year long, ended up only 3-for-17. We’re not going to win many games when both Iverson [Molinar] and D.J. [Stewart Jr.] combine to go 3-for-17.”

“I thought Cameron Matthews really played hard today and show a lot of heart and intensity. He really competed. Deivon [Smith] was terrific today. He did a lot of good things for us, and he played without giving up a turnover in a game where they pressed us a lot in the first half.”

“They [Memphis] are a very good team. They are very, very talented. I thought [Deandre] Williams started to take advantage of us early in the second half. [Boogie] Ellis was great all day long, and he ended up with 23 points. He did a really nice job. Their defense created some offense for them because they were able to get out in transition and get some easy looks.

“I thought our guys really did a great job this year. I’m so proud of them for their effort, their togetherness, coachability, and the improvements we made from starting against Liberty and Clemson to the end of the season. We beat Kentucky for the first time in 12 years in the SEC Tournament. We had some really nice wins – Florida, Missouri, and I thought the Ole Miss win on the road was a huge win for us after the loss to them at home. Plus, coming to this tournament and playing against three really good teams, leading up to today … Overall, I’m proud of what our guys did this year. I think it really helps us leading into this coming season.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Memphis started the opening 5:30 of the contest with a 13-point flurry capped by consecutive three-point plays courtesy of Boogie Ellis.

The Bulldogs found their rhythm on back-to-back triples from Deivon Smith and Iverson Molinar on opposite wings. Smith tacked on a pullup jumper in transition to pull State within 20-14 at the 8:07 mark.

Down 25-14 with 6:41 remaining, Mississippi State ripped off 19 of the last 27 points of the stanza at draw even at 33-33 going into the locker room.

Cameron Matthews ignited the charge with a three-pointer from Smith. Then, Matthews connected with Abdul Ado for a two-handed jam to bring the Bulldogs back to 25-19 with 5:47 to go.

Matthews continued his strong play with another trey, this time from D.J. Stewart Jr., before he tacked on an old school three-point play on a putback layup.

Andersson Garcia was inserted into the game and provided an instant impact with a steal and layup in the closing seconds for the equalizer.

The Tigers were able to regroup behind five quick points from Landers Nolley II and answered back with a 13-4 run during the first 4:37 out of the locker room to stretch the advantage back to 46-37.

The Bulldogs would get as close as six points, 48-42, on a Matthews left baseline trifecta at the 14:12 mark. However, Memphis would fire back with seven of the next nine points to extend the spread back to double digits, 55-44, with 11:18 to go.

The Tigers took their largest lead, 76-58, with 1:15 left. Smith scored the last bucket of the season on a layup from Garcia for the final margin of 77-64.

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