Dec 28, 2002

By MARY FOSTER
AP Sports Writer

NEW ORLEANS - Mario Austin didn't have his usual game, but he had just enough.

Austin scored 18 points as No. 16 Mississippi State upset No. 5 Oklahoma 54-45 Saturday in the Sugar Bowl Classic.

"Down the stretch, I came up with big baskets for our team," said Austin, who was held below his 26-point average for the first time since Dec. 10 when the NCAA cleared him to play.

Mississippi State (8-1) shot 36 percent from the field (18-of-50) and was just 3-of-13 from 3-point range, but the Bulldogs made 15-of-19 from the free-throw line to stay ahead.

Oklahoma (6-2), had won its six games by an average of 23.7 points, but shot a dismal 31 percent (17-of-54) and hit just 7-of-24 from 3-point range.

"They're probably one of the best defensive teams we've played against," Oklahoma's Hollis Price said.

The Sooners were down 48-38 with 3:39 remaining. Kevin Bookout got an offensive rebound and scored to pull Oklahoma to 48-40 with 2:49 left. After Derrick Zimmerman missed the front end of a one-and-one for the Bulldogs, Price sank a 3-pointer for Oklahoma, then made two free throws to get to 48-45 with 1:23 remaining.

Austin was fouled on a layup and converted the free throw to make it 51-45.

"I ran the court, which made their big men run and tired them out," Austin said. "That helped me."

The Bulldogs scored the final three points of the game on dunk by Zimmerman and a free throw by Austin, sparking a chant of "SEC, SEC, SEC," from the crowd. Oklahoma's previous loss was to Alabama.

Price led Oklahoma with 17 points. The Sooners had 17 turnovers to Mississippi State's 13 and outrebounded the Bulldogs 38-36.

"They have a superstar in Austin, and their team knows who their meal ticket is," Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson said. "If you had told me before the game that we'd outrebound Mississippi State and hold Austin to 18, I would have thought we'd win."

Michal Ignerski had 11 points for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs got only 11 points from their guards and none in the first half. Austin had 8 rebounds.

Mississippi State has not lost since dropping the season opener.

Both teams came into the game with long layoffs - seven days for Oklahoma and nine days for Mississippi State - and struggled early. It was over a minute before either team scored, and five minutes into the game Oklahoma led 5-4. The Sooners could not take advantage of a five-minute scoreless period by the Bulldogs and only led 10-4.

Both teams were rusty in the first half. The Sooners turned the ball over 10 times before halftime, the Bulldogs 11 times. The score was tied 23-23 at the half.

The Sooners pulled ahead 36-30 to open the second half. The 13-7 run was fueled by a trio of 3-pointers, two of them by Price.

The lead was short lived as the Bulldogs came back on an 8-0 run to take a 38-36 lead on a basket by Ontario Harper with 9:52 left.

Over the next 8:14, Oklahoma scored only once while Mississippi State stretched its lead to 46-38 with 4:43 remaining.