NASHVILLE, Tenn.- It was senior night at Memorial Gym and one of the greatest players to ever put on a Vanderbilt uniform, Shan Foster, made sure that his team was going to be victorious. Foster poured in a career-high 42 points to will Vanderbilt to a an 86-85 overtime thriller over No.25 Mississippi State.
Foster broke the Vanderbilt career scoring mark last Saturday in a emotional loss at Arkansas.
The two teams went into the locker room tied at 30, with Foster tallying a difficult nine points from the field. There was little sign of what was to come, as the Commodores' all-time 3-point shooting leader missed all three of his attempts from the outside.
Foster missed the next two shots behind the arc, but then put on one of the most fantastic final finishes that Memorial Gym has ever seen. Foster nailed his first 3 of the night at the 10:44 mark to tie the game at 46. Less than a minute later, Foster sank another 3 to give the Commodores its largest lead of the night, 49-46.
Down by six and less than nine minutes to go, Foster hit another 3, and immediately ater the Bulldogs built a five-point lead, Foster hit his fourth straight trey to close the gap once again.
Foster's fifth 3-pointer with under five minutes to go tied the score at 62, and his sixth 3-pointer — with two MSU players leaping in his face — brought the Commodores to within in two points with 30 seconds to play.
Following a missed free-throw by fellow SEC Player of the Year candidate Jamont Gordon, Foster hit his seventh straight 3 — from a seemingly impossible 27 feet away — to tie the game at 74 with just 14 seconds left in regulation.
Gordon took and missed two shots during the final 1.7 seconds, forcing overtime.
In the extra stanza, Foster accounted for eight of Vanderbilt's 12 points, all coming in the final minute of play.
After Mississippi State took a 81-78 lead, Foster scored on a alley-oop dunk from Jermaine Beal. The Bulldogs answered with a long 3-pointer from sophomore Ben Hansbrough to stretch the lead back out to four. However, Foster answered just six seconds later with yet another 3-pointer to pull Vanderbilt back to within one.
Hansbrough was fouled on the in-bounds pass, but missed his second free throw with just 29 seconds to go. Vanderbilt ran down the clock down to three seconds when Foster hit his ninth straight 3-pointer, sending his entire family — which was seated in the front row of the gym — into a frenzy.
Under a deafening roar, Mississippi State's Barry Stewart heaved a half court prayer as the clock expired on what will likely be considered one of the greatest performances in Vanderbilt basketball history.
Fellow Commodore senior Alex Gordon hit four 3-pointers of his own and finished with 14 points. Vanderbilt center A.J. Ogilvy was again plagued with foul trouble but finished with 16 points in 28 minutes of play.
Nashville native Jamont Gordon led the Bulldogs with 24 points and was aided by a 22 point night by senior Charles Rhodes. Rhodes would also finish with 14 rebounds. Fellow Tennesseans Jarvis Varnado and Barry Stewart also reached double figures as Varnado scored 16 points and Stewart finished with 10. Varnado, one of the nation's top shot blockers, registered just one block.
"Not a whole lot to say except this, it's simple, Foster beat us," said Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury after the game. "I can't say anything else about it. Wasn't anything they did, he jumped up most of the time in stressful situations and made shots. Absolutely nothing else I would do different. Absolutely nothing else we could've done. He jumped up and made 30-footers with someone in his face."
"That was a pretty good game," said Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings. "I'm really happy for my team, I'm really proud of their effort and willingness to stay with it.
"Really, really proud of my seniors who have meant so much not only to this basketball program, but in my opinion to this community, to this university, and certainly to our coaching staff and to me personally. They are a hard team to play in terms of their length and athleticism and they have scorers from all over the floor."
Stallings admitted that Mississippi State's intimidating front line took its toll on his team. "I felt like that was going to be as difficult a match up as we would face, despite the fact that we were going to be on our home court. It obviously took Shan a while to get going, but once he got going, that was about as spectacular as I've ever seen. I couldn't be happier for an individual and I couldn't be happier for a group of guys."
After the game, Foster, Gordon, Ross Neltner, Alan Metcalfe and Davis Nwankwo were honored for their careers and were greeted by thunderous applause.
"I really, really did not want to lose my last game in Memorial Gym," said a calm Shan Foster. "I was willing to do whatever it took in order to make sure that did not happen. My teammates did a great job of finding me when I was open and God took care of the rest. Some of those shots even amazed me, I was deep on a lot of them.
"Over the years, Shan's made big shots for us, for our team. We always think he's in a groove," said fellow senior Alex Gordon. "We're always trying to run plays for him, but tonight — I'm kind of like Coach Stallings, I can't put into words his performance.
"I really don't have any words to explain what [Foster]'s been to our team in the last four years, especially tonight. That was amazing. I've never seen someone shoot so deep and people pulling at him the same time, having two men on him. He was just a warrior tonight and that was about perfection. He did whatever it took for us to win. Our senior night, we're going to go down in history as going undefeated at home and it just feels good."
"After the game was over, I went over and hugged my mom and my grandmother and they were all crying and that's when it hit me that this was my last game in Memorial Gym," added Foster.
"The fans have been unbelievable. From day one, they took me in as family, a part of them and that means so much to me. Our coaching staff, my teammates, you know, just being a part of a true college experience and I've enjoyed every bit of it and that's why you see tears coming out of my eyes. My tears aren't tears of sadness but tears of joy that I've been able to have the greatest college experience that I could've imagined."
Foster's 42 points were the most scored by a Vanderbilt player in a single-game since Tom Hagan scored a Commodore record 44 points on March 8th, 1969.
With the win, the Commodores improved to 25-5 and 10-5 in SEC play. The victory also gave the Vanderbilt basketball program it's first unbeaten season record in Memorial Gym since the 1992-93 season. The 19-0 record is the best single season mark in program history. The 25 regular season wins also tie the mark set by the 1992-93 SEC Champions for most regular season wins in the program's history.
The win was the 84th for the Commodore four-year seniors, the most by any Vanderbilt four-year players in the 105 year history of the program.
Vanderbilt will now hit the road for one more regular season game on Saturday when they visit the Alabama Crimson Tide. Tip-off is set for 1 p.m. Central.