In claiming the most single-season wins in the 90-year history of MSU's basketball program, this year's 27-8 Bulldog contingent captured the school's second SEC Tournament championship with wins over nationally ranked Florida, LSU and SEC Champion Alabama during successive days last month at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Having also earned the SEC Tournament title in 1996, MSU joins perennial league powers Kentucky and Alabama in ranking as one of only three Southeastern Conference schools to claim more than one league tourney title dating back to 1980-81.
While earning their eighth postseason tournament appearance since 1990, including their first NCAA Tournament berth since the team's 1996 Final Four showing, this year's Bulldog club posted a 70-58 opening-round tournament win over McNeese State in Dallas before dropping a 68-64 second-round decision to Texas. With a school-best No. 3 seeding in this year's NCAA Midwest Regional bracket, Mississippi State has now advanced beyond the first round of the NCAA Tournament during each of the school's last three tournament appearances.
Coach Rick Stansbury's Bulldogs earned a school-best No. 3 seeding during this year's NCAA Midwest Regional in Dallas after stringing together eight consecutive wins in conference play, including an SEC Tournament title.
Ranked 17th nationally in the final Associated Press wire service poll and 21st in the season ending USA Today/ESPN coaches' poll, the 2001-02 Bulldogs matched a single-season school record, for the second consecutive campaign, with 13 home victories this past year. In addition, MSU claimed four wins (in eight decisions) over nationally ranked opponents this season, including three victories over Top 10 foes (Kentucky and Alabama-twice). In leading the SEC in team field goal percentage (48.0%; 12th in the NCAA) and rebounding margin (+6.5 rpg; 13th in NCAA), while ranking second among the league leaders in assists (16.2 apg) and three-point field-goal percentage defense (30.1%), this year's Bulldog club established new single-season school standards for most points scored (2,582), most rebounds (1,359), most assists (566), and most steals (294).
Individually during MSU's season-ending basketball awards banquet, all-SEC sophomore Mario Austin collected a team-high three awards Monday night in claiming the Bulldogs' Best Offensive Player and Bailey Howell Rebounding Awards, as well as sharing the club's Most Improved Player Award. This year's SEC Tournament MVP and two-time SEC Player of the Week ranked eighth among the SEC's leading scorers (16.1 ppg) and fifth in rebounding (7.6 rpg) this past season, along with rating second in the league in field-goal percentage (55.7%; 28th in the NCAA).
Austin shared this year's Most Improved Player honor with junior guard and fellow all-SEC standout Derrick Zimmerman. A third-team all-SEC selection (Associated Press) and a member of the 2002 SEC All-Tournament Team, Zimmerman also garnered State's Most Assists Award after leading the league in assists (6.0 apg) and ranking 20th nationally. Along with averaging 9.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.1 steals per contest, Zimmerman became just the second player in Mississippi State hoops history (joining Chuck Evans) to total both 200 or more assists (210) and 75 or more steals (75) during the same season.
Also collecting a pair of awards this year were Bulldog seniors Marckell Patterson, Michael Gholar and Guy Gardner. A native of nearby Eupora, Patterson claimed the club's Best Free Throw Percentage Award for the second straight season by ranking fourth among SEC leaders (77.9%) from the line this past year. An 86-game starter during his 122-game MSU career, Patterson completed his collegiate playing days ranked 17th on the school's all-time scoring list with 1,168 career points. Gholar, who is currently trying out for coach Jackie Sherrill's 2002 Bulldog football squad after helping lead the State hoopsters to 79 wins in four seasons, earned the team's Best Defensive Player Award for the second time in his roundball career.
Joining Patterson and Gholar, along with third-year walk-on guards Brandon Carr and Corey Stidham, and veteran managers Vince Ford and Troy Kestenbaum, as a recipient of a Senior Award, Gardner was honored with the prestigious Babe McCarthy Memorial Award, presented annually to the Bulldog player who best exemplifies the highest traits of character, leadership, desire and hustle. A two-year walk-on guard by way of Northeast Mississippi Community College, Gardner proved to be a valuable role player as a back-up point guard for the Bulldogs, in addition to compiling a 3.40 overall grade point average in social studies education.
Rounding out Mississippi State's award winners this season was second-year guard Roy Goffer, who garnered the team's Academic Award for the second straight year by virtue of his 3.83 grade point average during the fall semester and a 3.53 cumulative GPA in business information systems.