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Rhodes, Gordon lead Mississippi State past LSU

Mar 9, 2008 - 5:33 AM STARKVILLE, Mississippi (Ticker) -- Charles Rhodes and Mississippi State had a nice prep for the upcoming Southeastern Conference tournament.

Rhodes scored 27 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the 25th-ranked Bulldogs posted a 84-75 victory over Louisiana State in the regular-season finale for both teams.

Jamont Gordon had 23 points and nine rebounds and Ben Hansbrough scored 12 for Mississippi State (21-9, 12-4 SEC West), which has won four of five to secure the conference's No. 1 seed from the West Division for next week's league tournament in Atlanta.

"It means a lot going out on top," said Rhodes in his last regular-season game. "It was emotional for me the first half. I was so tense but my game got together once (Mississippi State coach Rick) Stansbury talked to me in the second half."

Mississippi State reached the tournament final last season, losing to Arkansas.

"We've got to plan on winning the whole SEC tournament," Rhodes said. "I think we are capable of doing that, and I think the Vanderbilt loss (on Wednesday) was a key thing for us. I think we will grow stronger from that loss and it's going to help us down the road in the SEC and NCAA (tournaments). We are ready."

The Bulldogs, who have won four straight against the Tigers, had to overcome a career high-tying 38 points by LSU's Marcus Thornton, who kept his team in contention in the second half.

Trailing 43-42 at the break, Mississippi State built its first double-digit lead at 62-52 with 10:19 remaining after consecutive baskets by Barry Stewart, Rhodes and a 3-pointer by Gordon.

"I thought LSU controlled the game in the first half and they beat us on the backboards," Stansbury said. "I thought the last 20 minutes, we controlled it.

"We were down eight or nine at halftime and closed it down to one on the backboards. Offensively, I thought we were good all night long. It was a great team effort and I am proud of this basketball team."

The Bulldogs increased their advantage to 14 on a shot from the arc by Jarvis Varnado with 7:24 left before Thornton used the long-range shot to put the Tigers back into the contest.

Thornton helped LSU (13-17, 6-10) go on a 17-7 burst that the 6-4 junior capped with his fifth shot from the arc, cutting the Tigers' deficit to 75-71 with 2:21 remaining.

However, Rhodes made four free throws in the final 72 seconds and Gordon converted three from the charity stripe in the same stretch to help Mississippi State seal the win. It was the second straight game both seniors have notched at least 20-plus points.

Rhodes, who connected on 9-of-17 shots from the floor, recorded his ninth double-double of the season. It was also his sixth game in his last eight scoring 20-plus points.

Varnado, who scored seven points, also had seven blocks to help the Bulldogs set an SEC record with 241 on a season, surpassing Kentucky's total from 1997-98 by one.

"I didn't score that much tonight - just rebounding and blocking the shots - that's what I do," Varnado said.

Mississippi State had 10 blocks in the contest.

Ranked second nationally in team defense entering this contest, the Bulldogs held the Tigers to 39 percent (28-of-72) shooting for the game.

Thornton shot 13-of-27 from the field, including 6-of-13 from 3-point range, and Chris Johnson scored 17 for LSU, which saw its four-game winning streak end.

Freshman Anthony Randolph had 14 points and 10 rebounds to record his ninth double-double of the season for the Tigers, who will be the fourth seed from the West in the SEC tourney and will play their opening game against the East No. 5 seed, South Carolina.

"I told my team after the game was over that I was proud of them," LSU interim coach Butch Pierre said. "There was a great crowd here tonight for senior day, but our team played hard and with a lot of emotion. I just think it is a great experience for our players because Mississippi State is one of the better teams in the league.

"It is a new season now, and this is how it is going to be in the Southeastern Conference tournament."