Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Bulldogs Unleash Defense, Win Title Cincinnati Falls as Mississippi St. Reaches Final Four

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Bulldogs Unleash Defense, Win Title Cincinnati Falls as Mississippi St. Reaches Final Four

Article excerpt

Maybe it isn't a promising sequel to "Green Acres" or a budding "Beverly Hillbillies" adventure waiting to happen. But after Mississippi State pitchforked Cincinnati on Sunday at Rupp Arena to advance to its first NCAA Tournament Final Four, the scenario is intriguing.

Consider Mississippi State's drippingly sincere Russell Walters, a poultry science major who writes country music and politely spells out that naughty word for Satan's lair.

"I know right now they're just swelling up with pride back home," said Walters, after Mississippi State's 73-63 victory in the Southeast Regional final. "It's just unreal to realize that I'm one of the few people in the world who'll ever go to a Final Four."

That begins against Syracuse on Saturday in East Rutherford, N.J., just across the Hudson River from New York City.

"I never have been; I'd like to go see the Statue of Liberty," said Walters, who confessed he'd actually rather be out in the woods.

Mississippi State, of course, is entitled to any touring or celebrating it wants to do after ousting second-seeded Cincinnati (28-5) and joining Kentucky to give the Southeastern Conference two teams in the Final Four for the second time in three years. The Bulldogs (26-7) clamped the Bearcats to a season-low 33.8 percent shooting and never trailed after Dontae Jones scored 15 of their first 18 points.

"He's playing better than anybody in the country - anybody," Mississippi State's Marcus Bullard said.

Jones, a compulsive shooter, finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds - despite being yanked by coach Richard Williams after taking a silly shot with Cincinnati trying to wriggle back and the Bulldogs trying to work the clock late in the game.

"I knew right after I took that shot that somebody was going to come in and get me out of there," said Jones, a junior-college transfer and former high school dropout. "I've had that conversation (with Williams) many times this year."

The Bulldogs have worn out other conversation pieces in recent weeks, particularly the tiresome "no respect" issue. But with recent wins over Kentucky (in the SEC Tournament) and now over the two top-seeded teams in the Southeast Regional, the Mississippi State contingent seemed to have a legitimate complaint after the game: The Final Four baseball caps furnished by the NCAA had "Mississippi" written on the backs. …

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