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Rhodes, Stewart key Mississippi St. rally over Oregon

Mar 22, 2008 - 4:16 AM LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Ticker) -- Once Barry Stewart picked up on Charles Rhodes' vibe, Mississippi State began to roll.

Rhodes and Stewart combined for 34 points in the second half as the Bulldogs rallied for a 76-69 victory over Oregon in the first round of the South Regional on Friday.

Trailing by as many as 13 points in the opening moments of the second half, Mississippi State (23-10) stormed back behind the play of Rhodes and the long-range shooting of Stewart.

The rally after a poor first half was very similar to the Bulldogs' overtime win over Alabama in the quarterfinals of the Southeastern Conference tournament on March 14, overcoming a 29-point effort from the first half.

"We didn't panic as all," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said about the deficit. "As we said at halftime, don't worry about the score. As long as we can go back out and do what we do.

"Again, all those who saw us play (an) almost identical situation last Friday night, identical. We didn't shoot it well. They came back out the second half and gave up 20 points the second half. Gave up 31 tonight, but things you got to rely on is what you do. Eventually you're going to loosen up and make some shots."

Rhodes finished with 18 of his career-high 34 points in the second half while Stewart notched all 16 of his after the break, including all four of the Bulldogs' 3-pointers.

"After the first three went down, I think it helped us a lot, gave us some momentum," Stewart said. "(It) gave us a lot of energy out there tonight."

Mississippi State charged to the lead behind a 12-1 run midway through the second half, with Rhodes and Stewart combining for 10 points. Jarvis Varnado capped the burst with a layup, giving the Bulldogs a 55-52 lead with 8:52 to play.

The Ducks (18-14) continued to fade away as the second half went on, finishing just 2-of-21 from the arc after intermission.

"I thought we took another step defensively," Stansbury said. "That was the whole key. The second half they were 2-for-21 from the 3-point line and Stew (Stewart) stepped up and knocked down four of them for us. Charles Rhodes was a monster in that second half on the backboards and finishing plays."

Oregon started the game 7-of-17 on 3-pointers to take a 38-28 lead at the break. By contrast, Mississippi State missed all 10 of its long-range attempts prior to intermission.

Although he credited the Bulldogs with making some defensive adjustments after the break, Ducks coach Ernie Kent thought that his team's struggles in the second half were just bad luck.

"I felt like the second half they had made some adjustments, their defense stretched us out a little bit, and, in essence, we got some of the same great looks in the second half that we had in the first half," Kent said. "The ball didn't go down. There's probably five, six that rattled in and popped out."

After Malik Hairston's 3-pointer gave Oregon a 41-28 lead 36 seconds into the second half, the team missed its next 16 attempts from the arc until Tajuan Porter's fourth of game made it a 74-66 game with 17 seconds left.

A senior, Rhodes finished 10-of-12 from the field and converted 14-of-18 free throws in making sure that his career did not end on Friday. He also grabbed nine rebounds.

"He's a tough player," Oregon's Maarty Leunen said of Rhodes. "Got a lot of things around the hoop. He's very skilled, can shoot the ball, made things tough on us."

Winning in the first round for the third straight time dating to 2004, Mississippi State got an all-around solid effort out of leading scorer and unanimous All-SEC first-team member Jamont Gordon despite some spotty shooting.

Despite going 2-of-14 from the field, Gordon finished with eight points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

Gordon went 2-of-9 from the floor as Mississippi State shot 36 percent (10-of-28) in the opening 20 minutes. However, Rhodes kept the team afloat with 16 points.

"In the first half I felt even though he had 16 points, we did a good job as a team limiting other players and established a lead, but in the second half, they kind of got going where he was making buckets, and other guys were kind of feeding off that," Leunen said. "It's unfortunate things happened that way, but they did."

A senior along with starters Leunen and Bryce Taylor, Malik Hairston had 22 points for the Ducks, who finished 34 percent (22-of-64) from the field.

Porter, who went 1-of-7 on 3-pointers in the second half, scored 18 points and Leunen added 13 and seven rebounds for Oregon, which lost in the first round for the third time in the five trips to the NCAAs under Kent.